Gruber’s Voters: Rational Ignorance

flying cadeuciiI think it’s fair to say Jonathan Gruber will not be offered the role of Pinocchio. Although intelligence agencies, in search of the truth serum, might have an interest in the ingredients of what he drinks.

Please put away the pitchforks. Gruber deserves credit for honesty and bipartisanship. Plus a complete rejection of Disneyland economics. If you’re looking for transparency, the other face of honesty, Gruber is ground zero.

‘Stupidity’, though, was an unfortunate choice of noun. And inaccurate. Gruber should have said ‘rational ignorance’ or ‘boundless optimism in technocracy,’ which describes most voters in any democracy.

‘Rational ignorance’ sounds smart. The cognoscenti know what you’re trying to get at. And the rationally ignorant, well they’re rationally ignorant. The term means something we do all the time: that is we can’t be bothered to seek information whether something is factually correct or not. It’s an information heuristic (mental short cut).

Imagine the information overload if we were presented itemized bills for everything we consumed in a restaurant. We’d know the costs of transporting that fine rack of lamb to the city, of its slaughter, of cleaning the abattoir after the slaughter. But to what avail is this information?

Unless you’re a payer hunting for pseudofraud, granularity is a nuisance. So that to avoid long term anhedonia from figuring CBO’s myriad calculations from magical Keynesian models we watch the Kardashians instead.

When you’re rationally ignorant you can be duped. Or rationally duped. But here is the key point: we choose what we allow ourselves to be duped about. No one can fool us twice without our consent.

I love a certain technology: MRI of the heart. It pays my electricity bills. Show me a study that shows this technology is beneficial and I’ll gloss over the methodology. Show me a study that casts an aspersion on its efficacy and I’ll become a pit bull terrier of methodology and conclude: a) the study was underpowered for the effect size and b) more research is needed.

My rational ignorance is not equal. There is a value component to it. I am rationally ignorant about statements that are egosyntonic with my utopia.

To those who believe that ACA will somehow cut costs whilst expanding coverage and access you can’t say ‘if you believe that you’ll believe anything.’ Because they won’t believe anything. They’re not stupid. They’re rationally ignorant.

People who couldn’t see the indifference between a mandate and a tax, and many still couldn’t see it when Justice Roberts pointed the obvious, aren’t so gullible that you can sell snake oil. They’re rationally ignorant.

People who marched against the ACA with that priceless placard ‘Government, hands off my Medicare,’ aren’t script writers for Monty Python. They’re rationally ignorant.

The problem isn’t that we’re rationally ignorant. The problem is how selective and predictable our rational ignorance has become. The problem is the ease with which we can access echo chambers which endorse this selectivity. The problem is the moral certitude with which we deny our rational ignorance.

Gruber, on the other hand, knows his biases, acknowledges them, and says ‘yes the ends justify the means.’ This is intellectual honesty 101. You may not like his means but how can you not muster a tincture of admiration for this man AND claim a desire for transparency?

Rational ignorance, I suppose.

37 replies »

  1. For me, it highlights the difference between business and government. In business, if the CEO gave what what was called the “lie of the year” and CFO publically stated “we deliberately wrote it so the auditors could not score it”, the SEC would be arresting them and the shareholder attorneys would be lining up to file lawsuits. With government, its okay to lie “for the greater good” and no one is arrested.

    As Mel Brooks once said “It’s good to be the King.”

  2. you started out describing rational ignorance–a choice not to learn–but ended up with lots of examples of willful ignorance–actively ignoring new information that you don’t like. People who want the government to keep their hands off Medicare are eventually going be told it is q government program but will willfully ignore this information.

  3. BTW, why are we all arguing about how the ACA got passed, or why it got passed, or if people like the fact that it got passed??

    After all, we don’t need no stinkin Congress. We have Barry, with his pen and his phone. He can fix anything. Just ask him.

    If he has the legal authority to wave his magic scepter and grant “amnesty” to 5 million lawbreakers, then why in the world did he waste his time trying to get a bill passed into law (even when Democrats controlled BOTH House and Senate)???

  4. The polls seem to show that about 75% of those insured through the exchanges are tickled pink with their coverage. It is also said that some 80% of them are being subsidized. The fate of the ACA would now seem to rest with the millions who, aware that they are deemed unworthy of subsidy (that would be, by way of example, couples earning over $62,000 a year, pretax), fear being herded into the exchanges. They now know that the costs of insuring the previously uninsurable aren’t going to be magically funded by the insurers. No, that cost is to be extracted from them, through jacked up premiums. Call them cold, hard, callous and uncaring, but many will not be able to bear the burden so arbitrarily imposed on them. Prate to them all you like about how “this is just how insurance works.” They don’t like this grotesque attempt to “redistribute” health care. Their “escape hatch” is the universally hated “individual mandate.” Strike that, and the insurers will be thrown into such an ocean of red ink that they will withdraw from the exchanges. Talk of making good their losses through the “risk corridors” will be political suicide.

    All this gloating about having “pulled a fast one” is most annoying.

  5. Joel
    Well said
    The only correction I suggest is that passive indifference is a tautology
    Can indifference ever be active?
    Well on second thought I guess people can willfully actively and enthusiastically choose to be indifferent
    That is scary
    Don Levit

  6. Comes down, per the author of this post for this thread, to arrogance and ignorance. So what is better for most Americans, active decit, or passive indifference?

    And then you have the pontificators here who just want to distract with semantics, deflect with obtuse rhetoric, or minize with flimsy evidence.

    But, everyone with a stake in keeping this farce of a law all deny oh so well.

    Ignorance and arrogance, both depend on immature and irresponsible defenses. Hmm, just like the leaders they elect regularly. I guess America has the representation it deserves…

  7. I really don’t care about the arrogant weaselwonk Gruber — a latter-day Ira Magaziner without the “charm.” When SCOTUS decides King v Burwell, it will be on the basis of Congressional Intent w/respect to federal HIX subsidy authority as set forth in the text, not Jonathan Gruber’s or the IRS’s intent — or any other tangential speculations. Both the language of PPACA Section 1321 and the written NFIB v Sebelius decision are rather clear.

  8. “The problem is the moral certitude with which we deny our rational ignorance.”

    Or, the problem is the absence of any morality on the left.

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  10. I agree with Janna and BarrySanders20. It is very weird to extol the honesty of a guy who bragged to his group of insiders how he and his buddies pulled the wool over the electorate by lies, subterfuge and deception.

  11. Talk about red herrings. Jha is lauding Gruber’s honesty.

    Years ago, Gruber said the law was written to encourage states to make the right choice when deciding to establish an exchange. Do it, and get subsidies for your state residents; don’t do it and suffer the consequences.

    Do you deny Gruber took this position in recorded statements? Or do you claim that Gruber — the Boy Genius, the Architect — was simply wrong when he said this (multiple times)?

    Jha wants to credit Gruber for his honesty about stupid voters. Why deny Gruber credit for his honesty about the way the subsidies were supposed to work?

    In any case, many states decided not to create exchanges. The original IRS regs tracked the language of the statute and would not have allowed subsidies for those buying on federal exchanges. Then the Obama administration leaned on the IRS to change the regs to interpret the law contrary to the actual language to allow all exchange-buyers the federal subsidy.

    The weakness of using administrative regs to override the statute is that a new administration, with its own interpretation, can change it back without the statute ever changing.

    And the dissenters were pointing out why the entire law had to go if the Medicaid coercion was stricken, which it was.

    So Nancy Pelosi is right that we are still finding out what’s in the law.

  12. How is Obamacare not a fraud? 6M people have lost their insurance, despite the oft-repeated “if you like you plan you can keep your plan.” Not enough? “It’s not a tax, it’s a FEE” (c) Oops, turned out to be a tax after all.

    How is Gruber honest? A guy who cheers the fact that “smart people in MA” have “ripped off the Feds” for $400M/year for Romneycare, and the “lack of transparency” that was instrumental in passing Obamacare is NOT my definition of an honest person, sorry.

  13. “As Nancy Pelosi famously said about the ACA, “We have to pass it to find out what’s in it.”

    The by-now totemic mis-quote.

    I knew what was in it when it was still H.R. 3200 in the House in 2009.

    “It may just turn out that Gruber was also speaking the truth when he said the subsidies are not available to those who buy through the federal exchange.”

    Also not true.

    The Section 1311(d)(1) “controversy” is a red herring, one whose transparent purpose is to try to flip Justice Roberts. 1321 supersedes 1311. SCOTUS long ago spoke to PPACA “legislative intent” — written by the DISSENTERS, no less.

    No. 11–393. Argued March 26, 27, 28, 2012—Decided June 28, 2012
    SCALIA, KENNEDY, THOMAS, and ALITO, JJ., dissenting

    pp 43-44:
    If Congress had thought that States might actually refuse to go along with the expansion of Medicaid, Congress would surely have devised a backup scheme so that the most vulnerable groups in our society, those previously eligible for Medicaid, would not be left out in the cold. But nowhere in the over 900-page Act is such a scheme to be found. By contrast, because Congress thought that some States might decline federal funding for the operation of a “health benefit exchange,” Congress provided a backup scheme; if a State declines to participate in the operation of an exchange, the Federal Government will step in and operate an exchange in that State.

    pp 59-60
    Health Insurance Exchanges and Their Federal Subsidies
    The ACA requires each State to establish a health-insurance “exchange.” Each exchange is a one-stop marketplace for individuals and small businesses to compare community-rated health insurance and purchase the policy of their choice. The exchanges cannot operate in the manner Congress intended if the Individual Mandate, Medicaid Expansion, and insurance regulations cannot remain in force…
    In the absence of federal subsidies to purchasers, insurance companies will have little incentive to sell insurance on the exchanges. Under the ACA’s scheme, few, if any, individuals would want to buy individual insurance policies outside of an exchange, because federal subsidies would be unavailable outside of an exchange. Difficulty in attracting individuals outside of the exchange would in turn motivate insurers to enter exchanges, despite the exchanges’ onerous regulations. See 42 U. S. C. §18031. That system of incentives collapses if the federal subsidies are invalidated. Without the federal subsidies, individuals would lose the main incentive to purchase insurance inside the exchanges, and some insurers may be unwilling to offer insurance inside of exchanges. With fewer buyers and even fewer sellers, the exchanges would not operate as Congress intended and may not operate at all.

    PPACA, Page 72, Section 1311(d) REQUIREMENTS.— (1) IN GENERAL.—An Exchange shall be a governmental agency or nonprofit entity that is established by a State.

    (1) IN GENERAL.—If—
    (A) a State is not an electing State under subsection (b); or
    (B) the Secretary determines, on or before January 1, 2013, that an electing State—
    (i) will not have any required Exchange operational by January 1, 2014; or
    (ii) has not taken the actions the Secretary determines necessary to implement—
    (I) the other requirements set forth in the standards under subsection (a); or
    (II) the requirements set forth in subtitles A and C and the amendments made by such subtitles; the Secretary shall (directly or through agreement with a not-for-profit entity) establish and operate such Exchange within the State and the Secretary shall take such actions as are necessary to implement such other requirements.

    Note the “IN GENERAL” at 1311(d)(1). Then go to 1321(c)(II). Deals with the failure exception.

    Case closed. “such actions as are necessary to implement such other requirements.”

    Like insurance subsidies.

  14. Krugman’s always been a cheerleader for the ACA. He’d be on the Titanic going down saying “She’s unsinkable!”.

  15. It was simply excluding the variables that would make the ACA look bad. One might argue that doing so isn’t lying, but it certainly isn’t telling the truth making people rightfully suspicious of their government.

  16. Dr Jha has a strange definition of honesty. Gruber was caught bragging about deceiving people too dumb to understand the law he helped create. That apparently includes most of the idiots in Congress — all Democrats — who voted for the law. 26 of those D’s who voted in favor are no longer around in the Senate. Now THAT’s politics.

    Dr Jha also approves of Machiavellian tactics. The means are unimportant to Jha if the goal — “reforming healthcare”, whatever that means — is achieved. That’s good to know about someone advocating for public policy.

    As Nancy Pelosi famously said about the ACA, “We have to pass it to find out what’s in it.” Gruber, Pelosi, Jha, and even those of us who did not support the law or the way it was passed are STILL finding out.

    It may just turn out that Gruber was also speaking the truth when he said the subsidies are not available to those who buy through the federal exchange. Or is Gruber to be “credited for his [selective] honesty”? It’s so hard to know what’s true when a confessed deceiver speaks.

  17. I note William that you can’t make an argument that waivers and bribes aren’t true, but you can change the subject and blame someone else.

  18. I actually agree with your article about Gruber. He is guilty only of being an arrogant ivory tower type, which I believe he actually has admitted to previously. People should not be vilifying him, they should instead be marching toward Washington DC with torches and pitchforks.

    This is not just “politics,” however, anymore than Watergate was about “plumbers.” This is about LYING. The American people know they are not bright. They know they depend on the smart folks like Gruber to help make policy. But we elect people who are supposed to have the common sense, and the sense of fairness, and honesty, to listen to the Grubers (and the opposing Grubers) and decide what’s best for the country, and do it WITHOUT being a bunch of conniving, lying P.O.S. . . .

    The scandal here is not about using a shill like Gruber. It is the truth finally coming out that “we knew we were lying to you all the time, and we knew we could get away with it because you are so stupid.” This is what Gruber, Obama, Pelosi, Reid, et. al. are saying – or at least WERE saying to each other, in private. Now Pelosi is adding lies on top of lies, saying she never heard of this poor schmoe Gruber, when a couple of years ago she was touting him as the next Ewe Reinhardt. That’s what pisses people off.

    Being smart (or dumb) is a function of luck and birth. Lying to people and scamming them and manipulating them is just evil, and wrong. You can call it “politics” but usually it’s something you just go to jail for. If you don’t think so, just practice some “politics” on your next bill to Medicare. See if you don’t end up in a cell next to eric holder.

  19. Just as Leona Helmsley was sent to prison not for tax evasion but for her remark about how “only the little people pay taxes”, Gruber is being pilloried for his arrogance and suggesting that Americans are stupid, a pair of traits I expect are shared by many of his academic colleagues.

    The reality is that the Clinton reforms were killed by Congressional Budget Office scoring that scared off moderate Democratic votes. Obama’s staff worked overtime to reframe the ACA until it got the “right” CBO scores: ones that made it appear to reduce the deficit. The CBO played along. It wasn’t fraud; it was simply moving the goal posts enough to get the votes they needed.

    It’s how the game is played. Which is why only 36% of eligible Americans voted last week. . . .

    The message to future Grubers: don’t be a dick! If you want to be “famous” and to get a bunch of grants from your friends in the White House, don’t pretend to be better than them, or the process they are participating in.

  20. Thanks for reading!

    I want to emphasize a few points.

    First, I do think Gruber should be credited for his honesty. He is not a politician and has not behaved as one. I’m quite surprised by the vitriol against him. It’s as if we love honesty, but it must be within certain parameters!

    This is neither a lie nor fraud, but politics. But healthcare cannot be reformed by pandering to politics.

    I don’t think either side is entirely honest with regards to the ACA.

  21. finally someone who gets it.

    The same people who SCREAMED for Bush’s head about the war in Iraq, are now perfectly willing to defend the govt lying to us all?

    Lies are lies, and fraud is fraud, no matter who is the perpetrator. If I commit fraud, I’m pretty sure Obama’s DOJ will send me to prison. Why isn’t he in prison?

  22. Ok, tell you what:

    I (as a fiscal conservative and libertarian) will GLADLY admit that I do not feel that the ACA was devised to secretly “foist death panels and ebola” on us.

    IF YOU, as a non-transparent dogmatic defender of Obama, will admit that the ACA is actually based on lies and affirmative deceit. Should you also feel that “the ends justify the means” (i.e., a President and Congress knowingly lying to the American people is ok), then I have just a couple of words for you: “Iraq war.”

  23. Repeal Obamacare and start anew.

    “Obamacare rules the day.”…And how is that working out? Unaffordable deductibles, unaffordable copays, a debt that has reached the GDP. ‘Stupid’ Americans can only remain stupid for so long.

  24. Please explain how Obamacare is a FRAUD. Yes it is imperfect, but it has been the first program to seriously dent uninsurance in decades. People no longer have to worry about insurers canceling their policy when they get sick. Read Paul Krugman’s NYT op-ed today. Obamacare is a SUCCESS!

  25. You guys are missing the point – it’s not a “policy disagreement” issue; it’s an issue of a massive FRAUD perpetrated on the American people. The guy admitted that the administration willfully lied to the CBO, let alone to the public. Does the end really justify such means to you, even if we assume the Republicans did not have any alternative solution? (Which is not true, BTW – there have been tons of alternatives proposed, but all shut down by the Dem-controlled Senate).

    “Come up with a better plan, or accept fraud” – a raw deal if I ever saw one. This is not how our government is supposed to work.

  26. Blame Obama, blame Harry Reid. I will take Republican criticisms of Obamacare seriously when I see real plans come of the out House where they are in charge. Until then, they have no credibility and the imperfect Obamacare rules the day.

  27. Love it. In Dr. Cochran’s new book “The Doctor Crisis,” he makes note of the material difference separating “cynics” from “dissenters.” THCB comments tend to be overpopulated with the former — most of them hiding behind untraceable screen names.

    “If you have a better plan for fixing our broken healthcare system”

    Read Jack Cochran’s book. I’ve just reviewed it on my blog.

  28. Many plans for the healthcare sector have been suggested for years, but that is impossible when ’stupidity’ reigns. It means nothing will pass the House or Senate. Just look at all the bills held up by Reid and not brought up to the Senate. In the end things must be bipartisan with strong majorities as whatever is suggested will be vetoed.

    A healthcare plan covers an entire nation and involves intimate personal decisions so it should not be passed in a dictatorial fashion like so many ‘stupidly’ believe is a fashionable method. It should be passed with a wide majority without bribery and everything else that was done by this fascistic administration.

    With regard to Ebola, should ‘stupidity’ reign? Just look at the contradictions and look at how poorly the administration has handled each aspect of this problem.

  29. Sorry folks. You can have policy disagreements with Obamacare, but please spare us that the ACA is some sort of secret plan to foist death panels, socialism, Ebola, etc. on America. If you have a better plan for fixing our broken healthcare system, please have your Republicans put it through the legislative process, since they have only offered “repeal” and not “replace.”

  30. What a bunch of baloney. The voters were purposely deceived, with Obama sitting in the room when the deceit was being plotted. There was nothing intellectually honest about that. The media was complicit. Yes, some voters (less than 50%) who bought this lie were ignorant – they drank the cool-aid “you can keep you doctor”, “will not add to the deficit” etc. But even if the victim is gullible, the fraud does not become less of a fraud and the lie less of a lie. All those people in that room, including Gruber and Obama, should be prosecuted.

  31. “Rationally ignorant”, what a nice way to tell duped Obama followers that their agreement with Obama policy has been based upon ‘stupidity’. Amazingly so a good friend of opposing ideology told me to forget the euphemisms and just call him stupid. He figured it was easier to admit a mistake than go on indefinitely defending it. Te latter he said was not rational.