Sunday, January 23, 2011

QOTD: The wonk gap

Quote of the Day:
Jonathan Chait bemoans the wonk gap:
One of the unusual and frustrating aspects of the health care debate is the sheer imbalance of people who understand the issue at all from a technical standpoint. Even the elite policy wonks of the right make wildly incorrect claims about the issue.

First of all, I don’t think this is unique to health care, or especially unusual. Monetary policy, fiscal policy, you name it, there’s a gap, although not quite as large as on health.

Second, I’m surprised that Chait doesn’t refer to Upton Sinclair’s principle: it’s difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it. In fact, in general right-wing think tanks prefer people who genuinely can’t understand the issues — it makes them more reliable.

Doesn’t this apply to both sides? Not equally. There was a time when conservative think tanks employed genuine policy wonks, and when asked to devise a Republican health care plan, they came up with — Obamacare! That is, what passes for leftist policy now is what was considered conservative 15 years ago; to meet the right’s standards of political correctness now, you have to pass into another dimension, a dimension whose boundaries are that of imagination, untrammeled by things like arithmetic or logic.

Wouldn’t the right be better served by better wonks? No. For one thing, they’d be unreliable — they might start making sense at an inappropriate moment. And, crucially, the media generally can’t tell the difference. I’ve had long exchanges with reporters over the doc fix; let me tell you, it’s very, very hard to get the point across. People like me tend to think in terms of simple thought experiments, but reporters keep wanting to dive into the political ins and outs, no matter how many times you try to say that those are irrelevant.

Or maybe the simplest way to say this is, Ignorance is Strength. And why tamper with a winning formula? - Paul Krugman

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