God HELP Us All!
By Mytheos Holt
Monday July 6, 2009

If one needed any more evidence of the blatant confirmation bias of the New York Times’ editors, he or she should look only at Paul Krugman’s June 5 column entitled “HELP is on the Way.”

Mr. Krugman, perhaps the only economist whose status as a Nobel Prize winner has been used to prove his credibility in all manner of non sequiturial rambling, recently took it upon himself to try and save the idea of universal health care from being drowned by the waves of political and economic reality. Unfortunately, in so doing, he employs the conventional left-liberal arsenal of logical fallacies, fallacies which his prodigious skill at magical thinking transfigures into facts before his readers’ very eyes.

The title of Mr. Krugman’s column refers to the newly released health care reform bill which has been drafted by the Senate committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. This bill, which Mr. Krugman reminds us has been circulated already as “two incomplete Senate health reform proposals” and has been ‘scored’ (the derisive air quotes are his) unfavorably by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) both times, apparently finally got it right the third time around, as Krugman writes: “Last week the budget office scored the full proposed legislation from the Senate committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP). And the news — which got far less play in the media than the downbeat earlier analysis — was very, very good. Yes, we can reform health care.”

Presumably, given the lack of dismissive air quotes around the word “scored,” Mr. Krugman means his readers to take the estimates of the bill’s costs to be official. A pity that Douglas Elmendorf, Director of the CBO, disagrees with him. In the letter preceding the officially released estimate of the bill’s costs, Mr. Elmendorf writes:

“The figures presented in this letter do not represent a formal or complete cost estimate for the draft legislation. This estimate reflects the major provisions of the legislation but CBO has not yet completed an analysis of all of its effects. Specifically, the agency has not yet estimated the administrative costs to the federal government of implementing the specified policies or the costs of establishing and operating the new insurance exchanges, nor has it taken into account all of the proposal’s likely effects on spending for other federal programs or their potential effects on revenues from corporate taxes.”

Now, aside from a single sentence mentioning that the estimate “doesn’t include the cost of insuring the poor and near-poor, whom HELP suggests covering via an expansion of Medicaid (which is outside the committee’s jurisdiction),” one searches Mr. Krugman’s op ed in vain for any acknowledgement of the unofficial nature of these results.

Apparently, when issues of ideological purity are at stake, Nobel Prize-winning economics professors behave like their students and skim the required reading. They also apparently forget basic logic, as Mr. Krugman’s next argument for health care “reform” shows: “every other advanced country offers universal coverage, while spending much less on health care than we do. For example, the French health care system covers everyone, offers excellent care and costs barely more than half as much per person as our system.”

Judging by Mr. Krugman’s extensive use of the fallacy of uniformity and the fallacy of composition in these two sentences, one can only assume that he believes that what is true of one ‘advanced’ country is true of all ‘advanced’ countries, and what is true of most ‘advanced’ countries is automatically true of any individual ‘advanced’ country. By this logic, what is good for France is good for the entire ‘advanced’ world and what is good for the whole ‘advanced’ world is also true for any individual part of the ‘advanced’ world, so therefore, we should all mimic France, and forget the fundamental differences between our respective systems of government, lack of cultural homogeny and larger population!

With any luck, the few Senators needed to pass the orgy of Statism that is the current plan for universal health care will stay seated comfortably on the fence despite Mr. Krugman’s harangues. One only wishes that the editors of The New York Times would also bother to check the sources of their columnists.

Mytheos Holt is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.

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