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July 19, 2011

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IMHO Brendan's article on Misinformation in the Health Care debate suffers from two flaws:

1. It looks only at misinformation promulgated by opponents of the Health Plans and ignores misinformation promulgated by the proponents

2. It defines political misperceptions "to include both demonstrably false claims and unsubstantiated beliefs about the world that are contradicted by the best available evidence and expert opinion." In practice, "best available information" means giving more weight to liberal expert opinion than to conservatives expert opinion.

As an example of #1, consider the belief that under Obamacare if you like your current health insurance plan, you will be able to keep it. He faults the Bush Administration for "misleading statements" about the supposed relationship between Saddam and al Qaeda. However, the Obama Administration didn't just make misleading statements about the ability to keep one's current insurance. This lie was uttered repeatedly by everyone from the President on down. And, it was repeated uncritically by mainstream media.

As an example of #2, consider the Death Panels. There's no doubt that Michelle Bachman was wrong to call end-of-life counseling sessions "mandatory" and to call them Death Panels. OTOH things are not so clear if one uses Pew's definition:

Government organizations that will make decisions about who will and will not receive health services when they are critically ill.

Brendan quotes comments from PolitiFact and FactCheck. These are supposedly independent organizations, but IMHO they actually lean left. According to Brendan, these organizations concluded that:

While efforts to reduce growth in health care costs under Obama’s plan might lead to more restrictive rationing than already occurs under the current health care system, that hardly justifies suggestions that reform legislation would create a “death panel” that would deny care to individual seniors or disabled people.

This statement is double-talk. If Obama's plan leads to more restrictive rationing, then some individuals will be denied care. That's what "rationing" means.

At this point, there's no way to be certain who will be denied care under the coming rationing. IMHO it's likely that seniors will be among those who receive less care. Note that David Brooks's article referenced in this post makes the argument that end-of-life care must be curtailed in order to make Medicare sustainable. I suppose one could argue that at this point in time, one cannot absolutely prove that health care will be reduced for critically ill seniors, rather than for some other groups. However, I think it's more likely than not that limitations on end-of-life care will come about.

Brendan's paper says:

Jerit and Barabas (2006) show that approximately one-third of Americans in 1998–1999 believed Social Security would eventually run out of money completely under existing law. Only 15% of the public or less knew that the program was projected to be able to pay 75% of promised benefits indefinitely even if no changes were made.

The second sentence supposedly contradicts the first sentence. It's supposed to show the falsity of the belief that Social Security would eventually run out of money completely if no changes were made in current law.

However, the second sentence is self-contradictory. If no changes are made in current law, SS can't pay only 75% of promised benefits. Current law obviously requires paying 100% of currently promised benefits.

I grant that if the law were changed so that all benefits were reduced to 75% of current levels, then SS could continue to pay benefits indefinitely (at least, according to the projection). However, that fact doesn't tell us what will happen to SS if the current law is not changed.

Two real-world points should also be considered. No politician has recommended reducing all SS payments by a uniform factor. On the contrary, all the SS reforms I've seen broached would leave SS unchanged for retired people and for people near retirement. So, this large group will likely continue to get 100% of current benefits, leaving that much less for everyone else.

Also, the official SS projections are quite optimistic for two reasons. First, they assume a much better long-term economic growth than we've seen under President Obama. If this slow growth is the new normal, as many now suggest, then SS will have substantially less money available.

The compounding effects of different economic growth rates can be enormous. E.g., if the economy grows at 2% per year, after fifty years the GNP would be only one quarter as large as it would be if the economy grew at 5% per year.

Also, SS actuaries' mortality assumptions are based on the past. They don't trend improving mortality into the future. If lifespans continue to improve, then the average SS recipient will have more years of benefits than projected, meaning that SS will prove to be less solvent than projected.

As to David's final point, while it's true that Social Security financial projections assume that lifespans will not improve, that may not be so farfetched.

Tom Coburn's recommendation that the NSF end funding for social science research is an example of a more general problem: There's now a war between all recipients of federal money, whether they know it or not. The federal government no longer has enough money to support all those it has been paying money to.

Politico gave a weak justification to continue funding social scientists:

The SBE directorate has an annual cost of about $255 million — a relatively small part of the foundation’s $6.9 billion overall budget.

Ongoing federal deficits are projected to remain over a trillion dollars per year. That could get worse, if the economy doesn't perk up or if interest rates on US bonds increase. Drastic cuts everywhere are most urgently needed, including both large and small programs.

IMHO, in the real world, small programs are more likely to be cut, because they have less political support. The social scientists' lobby can hardly match up to the defense lobby, the public school teachers' lobby, or AARP.

@Rob - ROTFL!

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