Barack Obama won a dramatic, unexpected political victory on health care this week. Even in partisan terms it might be wise to withhold congratulations until November 2. But here’s the question I want to ask: When’s the last time a major government program did what it was supposed to do, or cost what it was supposed to cost?
I concede that it’s a political triumph. The president got a bill passed that looked doomed and emerged looking more like a leader. And I won’t quibble that his vaunted non-partisanship came down to a House of Representatives vote in which not one single Republican supported his health-care bill. We have political parties because people disagree on fundamental issues, and it is as undesirable for politicians to deprive voters of important choices by ganging up on us as it is unlikely, given their propensity to squabble. But it doesn’t much matter.
What matters is the policy question: Why do we think this bill will work the way it’s meant to? I am constantly amazed at the way the American and Canadian chattering classes plow ahead with one government initiative after another on the assumption that it will, if enacted, perform as advertised. Why do we think that? Continue reading