Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Did Rand Get Obama Right?

Not Rand Paul, Ayn Rand.

The current Obamacare mess reminds me of part of Rand's picture of the bad guys in her novels—that they thought that if only they gave sufficiently forceful orders, what they commanded would have to happen, that objective reality was subject to human will. The Obamacare exchanges had to work, Obama told his people to make them work, so it would happen. They didn't work. Obama ordered his people to fix them by the end of November, so that will happen.

My guess is that it won't. 

More important, whether the exchange works or not, I don't think it is possible for the program to work in the way Obama and his supporters predicted, to make better insurance available at lower cost to more people. If I am correct, there are two possible explanations for how the program got passed. 

One is that Obama and his supporters were engaged in a deliberate fraud along lines such as those I described (and rejected) in my previous post. The other is that Rand had it right, that they believed that if only they had sufficient will reality would bend and things would turn out the way they wanted, that all arguments to the contrary were produced by people with either bad motives or insufficient determination. 

What I gather that Thomas Sowell, in a book I haven't read but have read about, referred to as the unconstrained vision.


RP Long said...

I think it would be a useful exercise for Obama and his ilk to add up the some total of all money in existence and divide it by the population; then, take the resulting "average person" on an imaginary shopping trip to buy one of everything that exists. The final step in the exercise is to watch how long it takes for the money to run out.

In short, I don't think the concept of scarcity really dawns on some people.

Alternatively, they could just take a look at this excellent XKCD cartoon:

Nancy Lebovitz said...

That's something like my take on Obama. He doesn't want to run the economy, but he thinks he can just give an order and have it work out the way he wants it to-- consider the moratorium on oil drilling in the Gulf after the BP disaster.

The good news about Obama is that he doesn't give that sort of order very often.

Brian said...

I think if you look at the reactions to the failure, you see the same mindset. If something fails, it doesn't fail because it's too expensive or they didn't do enough testing or because it's just completely impossible. It failed because people wanted it to fail.

Eric Hanneken said...

Well, I'm pretty sure Rand got Venezuela's president right. See, for example, this USA Today story about him ordering a chain of electronics retailers to lower their prices to a "fair" level.

"Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro intensified his perceived fight Monday against 'bourgeois parasites' he accuses of an economic war against the socialist country by threatening to force more stores to sell their merchandise at cut-rate prices. . . ."

Venezuela's money supply grew 70% over the last year. In unrelated news, greedy capitalists began raising their prices, so the government seized businesses and imposed price controls. By coincidence, the country is also suffering from a shortage of basic goods like toilet paper. If only President Maduro had more power . . .

Anonymous said...

In my experience, this trait (you just have to give an order and it happens) is a typical one found in people who made the law their profession. They often believe it is sufficient for things to happen to make a law; it's kind of a professional bug. The profession as a whole is about making norms and regulations, not observing outcomes which often is left to economists etc.

bruce said...

Obama has black friends and white friends, yellow friends and brown friends. All Obama friends are ward heelers. No capable, powerful public administrator friends. No big successful businessman friends. Admin stuff does not enter his universe of discourse.

Anonymous said...

You haven't read 'A Conflict of Visions', David? You have mentioned Sowell on your blog before, I assumed you would have given it's possibly his best known book (and his favourite of his own). That said, the general idea can be quickly sketched out, the rest of his book considers several implications of the visions.

William H. Stoddard said...

Carol and I have been saying for a couple of weeks that it really looks as if the government were being run largely by Rand villains. The current ACA mess reminds us of Rand's line, "Brothers, you asked for it!" Of course, Rand seems to have been an admirer of Mencken when she was younger; perhaps she saw his line about democracy being "The theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard."

It's all the more unnerving to see you speculating about the same thing, as I know your views are significantly further from Rand's than mine are. On the other hand, I'm confident that you have a firm grasp of the concept of rent-seeking, and even though Rand probably never used the phrase, the story of Atlas Shrugged shows how clearly she understood the concept. I think we're seeing a lot of rent-seeking now.

Anonymous said...

In the aftermath of the 2008 election (and the TARP, etc., under Bush), some wit said approximately, "You can disagree with Ayn Rand's philosophy. You can say that her heroes aren't realistic. But you have to say one thing for her: it has now become clear that her villains are pretty realistic."

The Moral Economist said...

David, your life would be better if you read a conflict of visions, by T Sowell. Fantastic. Doesn't discuss much about libertarians, so it might be especially interesting for you to read, so you could contribute your thoughts about it.

The Skip Bureau said...

Yeah, I'm always amused when a law gets passed and a politician thinks the thing is done. The existence of a law does not in any way imply the existence of reality.

First, you have to get awareness of the law out. At this point, there's no way the average person can understand, let alone follow, more than a tiny percentage of laws on the books.

Second, you have to engage in enforcement publicly and often enough to make the law stick. Speeding is illegal and I do it each and every day, for instance. The enforcement simply does not cost enough to cause me to stop, as the saved time more than makes up for the potential cost of getting caught. The same thing is happening with the individual mandate.

Third, if your law is at odds with what the average person thinks is just, no matter how good of an idea it really is, you will have to deal with fallout from your law. Obamacare is suffering from this somewhat at the moment.