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Saturday, May 10, 2014

Reading Brad Reading Reihan Salam

Brad DeLong read an essay on the ACA by Reihan Salam. He summarised it and politely contested Salam's conclusion. I read only his summary. I am very impressed that Brad managed to read through the essay and very very impressed by his courtesy. I am much less polite in comments. Click the link for Brad here or here if you want to know what the hell I am ranting about.

Redundantly refuting Reihan

1.1 "the more people know ...." This is simply false. There is still a majority which disapproves of the ACA but disapproval has declined from the peak. Overall, there is no noticible trend in the RCP average

1.2 "64% ... " Salam is cherry picking. The RCP average is 53.3% against opposed (same link). I think anyone who talks about a single poll rather than an average may be assigned to one of two classes. He is either a fool or a knave. If he is indeed hignly intelligent, he is a knave. Clearly Salam is trying to win the approval of actual fools who don't understand the concept of averaging. His point 2 alone proves that he is not engaged in serious debate. I understand that it is frustrating having a serious debate only between Democrats Democrats and an occasional socialist, but that's no reason to treat a cherry picker as if he had anything useful to contribute.

1.3 20 states. See the definition of Chutspa.

2.1 Cancellations. Look you can't have a mandate that people buy health insurance without a defition. Otherwise people will buy plans with a million dollar deductible and a million and one dollar lifetime limit. Salam knows this. He also surely knows (as did Obama when lying in 2008) that a mandate is needed for the most small government market oriented reform which massively expands coverage. Some people will pay more. They were free riders who paid less because of the expected value of charity care they would receive. they are few. The search for people hurt by cancellations has been frustrating. It is reasonably clear that a majority people whose old plans were cancelled benefit from the ACA.

2.2 More cancellations. Probably more net benefits

2.3 technicalities affect subsidies. So what else is new ? Nothing is perfect.

2.4 There is a very real possibility that Reihan Salam is an infiltrator from the alien planet of fools and knaves. Here he is saying that we can't predict the future with certainty. That is his whole point. Data so far show a huge massive gigantic inrease in the number of people with private insurance with an gross increases on the order of 6 million (Rand) to 9 million (based on previously uninsured data from Against this there is gross decline (from cancellations) estimated at 700,000 by Rand. There is every reason to forecast that the 6-9 million will grow (all forecasters forecast this) and the 700,000 will shrink. Clearly Salam's standard for there is "a very real chance that P" is that there is not 100% absolute proof of not P. To paraphrase Atrios, there is exactly just as very real a chance that Reihan Salam is molesting a goat as I type.

3.1 "enrollment in the new exchanges ..." This is not at the same level as 2.4. Enrollment has exceeded expectations. This is arithmetic. Salam is lying. He has decided to redefine enrollment to mean paying not signing up. The term has an ordinary English meaning which he ignores. Worse (you paraphrase him) using the past tense "has still fallen" to refer to the future -- the rate of payment of bills which are not yet due. Here he slipped. There is no way to define the term enrollment so that expectations of enrollment are expectations of an event now in the past and so that enrollment is below those expectations. The sentence as written is certainly surely false. There is no doubt about this. Even if the number of people who purchse insurance on the exchanges after choosing a plan during the open enrollment period ends up less than 7 million, Salam's false claim is false, because he used "has" to refer to an event which had not yet occurred when he wrote his clumsy lie.

3.2 Again "a very real possibility" which means "not proven to be false". Salam feels free to make any prediction he pleases about the future. There is a very real possibility that he will admit that he was just trolling us. That he is absolutely sure that the ACA will be a huge success and will tell us we've been Rick Rolled tomorrow. I won't waste my time with comments like "there is a very real possibility that Salam really thinks [the opposite of what he claims]. There is not just a very real possibility but an absolute certainty that this would be a complete waste of time. I think reading Salam is similarly a complete waste of time.

Also he has trouble with verbs again. You can't justify the indicative "will" with arguments about "very real possibilities." I think it is obvious that Salam has an unusual (perhaps extraordinary) command of the English language. His incorrect use of "has" and "will" shows the strain of having no legitimate case.

4.1 Limits innovation ... Since the incentive is to innovate to avoid the cost of actually insuring this is a good thing. Salam obviously knows that cherry picking innovations are good for insurance companies and their customers and not socially useful (if he is indifferent about distribution as I guess he is he might think that eliminating insurance isn't socially harmful). He has to make a case that limits on innovation are costly in expected value not that the benefits come with some possible non zero cost.

4.2 Obama care leaves cancer uncured. This is a worse defect. Failure to solve all of humanities problems is not failure and does not begin the first step towards setting the stage for an introduction the the groundwork of a justification of " “will eventually have to be either drastically reformed or replaced outright”

4.3 "don't ... a wide range" I think this is another simply false claim. The range is very wide. The qualifiers "wide" and "enough" make the claim (as paraphrased) unfalsifiable and meaningless. In particular, there are costs to allowing a wider range (cherry picking again). That the range isn't the widest conceivable (no million dollar deductible plans again) is not an argument that it is less wide than optimal. Here Salam attempts to exploit reader ignorance (making a claim which people who know the facts wouldn't accept) deliberate vagueness (as paraphrased) and counts only costs but not benefits.

4.4 OK here "narrowly" plays the role of "wide" and "enough". The qualified statement is unfalsifiable.

4.5 If Salam is willing to denounce the income tax (and he may be) then he has a case. If his argument is that the ACA will have to be replaced, because it is like the income tax (or the EITC) he is ignoring history entirely when making his predictions. Egalitarian redistribution affects incentives. In every poll taken over 22 years now shows a solid majority wants more of it. Salam clearly wishes this weren't so, but "will P" doesn't mean "would P if the world were as I wish it were and as it has never been."

4.6 see 4.2. Salam is defining failure as not eliminating all problems.

5 here he thinks he can improve on the ACA. This has nothing to do with the "will ..." assertion he set out to prove. Of course he thinks he could do better (if he were the house the senate and the president). Thinking he can do better is part of his job description. I don't have an opinion on Salam's proposed reforms. Point 5 is, as you note, completely off topic.

I conclude (before reading your responses)

You are a hero for working through Salam's obviously long essay and trying to summarize it. I haven't read his essay, so I can't evaluate your summary. I have never read an essay written by Reihan Salam. I try to avoid making predictions, but I do think I can safely say that I will never read an essay by Reihan Salam. I place him in the ignore bin. I don't value my time highly, but I see no point in reading him. I am quite sure that if I want to find valid arguments for a proposition, I can do better just thinking myself than trying to find a valid argument in an essay by Reihan Salam. My view is that he is not honest and not capable of distinguishing his guesses from reasonable inferences.

I understand that he is widely considered to be one of the most valuable and interesting conservative policy intellectuals (where "policy intellectual" is defined as someone addressing a broad range of issues (as you do) and not a specialist with some useful expertise). I consider his contributions worthless. This doesn't mean I can think of any more valuable policy intellectual who is a conservative in good standing. I think it is not possible to reason intelligently and honestly and maintain good standing as a conservative.

I have now read your comments. I think your response on point 1.2 "62%" is not optimal. You should at least link to a site which posted results from the other polls. The 62% is a cherry picked outlier. This is easily proven and should be proven.

You are very kind and polite. You have one reference to "credibility as a Republican". I think the observation that Salam is smart and can't possibly believe what he wrote should be added to responses to points 1.2, 2.4, 3.1, 3.2, 4.2, 4.3, and 4.6. So I classify 8 out of 16 topics I considered as each containing proof that Salam is a fool or a knave. He is not a fool.

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