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What we have here is a failure to communicate

I appreciate Chuck Lane's response to my post yesterday, though I'm confused by his decision to ignore the entirety of its contents.

It seems, at this point, that our dispute comes down to tone. Lane wonders whether "it will be easier to achieve reform in an atmosphere where accusations of mass murder whizz about freely." I wonder whether reform is even possible to achieve in an atmosphere where statements about consequences are ruled out of order.

At no point in our discussion has Lane disputed the contention that insurance reduces mortality, and for that matter, morbidity and bankruptcy. Similarly, he has agreed that Lieberman is acting partially out of residual anger at liberals, an argument Howard Fineman also made on Hardball last night. That is to say, the two premises on which my argument is built are both relatively non-controversial, even with Lane.

But if those premises are granted, then the rest of the discussion clicks naturally into place. What is left is to simply choose a number. I'm using the methodology developed by the Institute of Medicine and applied to 2006 data by the Urban Institute, which left me with a rough estimate of 150,000 lives saved over the next 10 years. That shouldn't be so shocking: $900 billion actually buys you something in the market. Harvard's recent study would actually yield a far higher estimate, as they calculated annual deaths due to insurance status at 45,000. Other studies, no doubt, would yield lower numbers.

To this, there seem to be two rejoinders in Lane's post. The first is that it is "an accusation of mass murder." It is not. It is a statement of consequences. One wag pointed out that many deaths are caused by automobile accidents, and I do not advocate banning automobiles. And he's right. I will make an argument that the benefits of automobile use outweigh the deaths caused by accidents. But I will not ignore the fact that deaths happen, or pretend it's illegitimate to point them out. And the same goes for Lane's assertion that I "would mandate unlimited health-care spending for everyone." I wouldn't, but in rejecting that proposal, I would show my work, and be clear about both its costs and its benefits.

So far, none of Lieberman's defenders have argued that stopping an exchange-limited Medicare buy-in for people between 55 and 64 is more important than 150,000 lives, or even than one life. How they reconcile that with his willingness to doom the bill over that issue and make passage much harder by killing a tenuous compromise amidst an uncertain legislative environment is not for me to say.

Second, Lane suggests that the rhetoric is simply overheated, as compared to the crystalline calm of his own prose. "I objected to Klein's piece about Lieberman for the same reason I objected to the right's scare talk about socialism and 'death panels,'" Lane writes.

I find that peculiar. I objected to the rhetoric of socialism and 'death panels' because that rhetoric was untrue, and it harmed people's understanding of the underlying legislation. But Lane, as far as I can tell, agrees that what I'm saying is true. But in this case, an accurate rendering of the situation reads like a radical attack on Joe Lieberman. Sometimes, reality is uncivil. But that does not mean it is uncivil to point it out.

Finally, Lane suggests there are other ways of covering the uninsured than those in Harry Reid's bill. That's true, of course. I doubt anyone in the country has written more about Wyden-Bennett, a bill that is far preferable to Reid's legislation, than I have. But the failure of Reid's process would not kickstart the construction of another process, just as the failures of Clinton, Nixon, and Truman did not lead to some alternative universal coverage scheme. Either this process reaches agreement or these people do not get health care. Those are the stakes. And that's why it's important to talk, at least occasionally, in terms of lives, rather than retreating to the safe sterility of policies. It makes the stakes clear, when otherwise they are all too easy to forget amidst the daily soap opera of the public option.

By Ezra Klein  |  December 15, 2009; 1:41 PM ET
 
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Next: It's beginning to look a bit like 1994

Comments

Hear, hear.

Posted by: crust1 | December 15, 2009 1:59 PM | Report abuse

Can you point me to the part of your analysis where you show that Lieberman opposes "covering the uninsured"? You somehow equated his opposing "an exchange-limited Medicare buy-in for people between 55 and 64" with such opposition. They are not the same thing.

And he won. The ridiculous Medicare buy-in is gone, yet the bill lives on.

Posted by: ostap666 | December 15, 2009 1:59 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, thanks for being a voice at WaPo that's not opposed to giving readers useful information simply because it makes a senator look bad.

Posted by: JEinATL | December 15, 2009 2:03 PM | Report abuse

People like Lane are almost congenitally unable to face the consequences of their policy choices. Look at the whole discussion of the wars of the past 8 years. His arguments are intellectually dishonest, as are Lieberman's. Keep up the good work.

Posted by: Mimikatz | December 15, 2009 2:03 PM | Report abuse

from the NYT:http://tinyurl.com/y8lccaz
The buy in is gone because liberals liked it and it was good policy. Lieberman explicitly says this above.

Posted by: jhop2016 | December 15, 2009 2:05 PM | Report abuse

I think all the effort going into parsing out variations on cap and trade would be far better spent picking through the Clean Air Act. You're not going to get anything useful on such a significant issue out of this Congress (and you might actually get a significant REDUCTION in EPA's authority).

Posted by: NS12345 | December 15, 2009 2:10 PM | Report abuse

Here's a thought experiment: Instead of an abstract number - 50,000, 100,000, whatever - suppose you were able to come up with a list of one hundred specific people, with names and addresses, who will die next year unless HCR passes. Or for that matter fifty, or ten or even one person - but a specific person with a name and a photo and a history.

I wonder how many would vote against HCR knowing that their vote would kill a specific individual?

No real policy implication to this - I just find it an intriguing thought.

Posted by: Virginia7 | December 15, 2009 2:18 PM | Report abuse

I am so tired of reporters and editorialists that shy away from discussing the facts of an issue because they're impolite. People die without health insurance. People will die because of global warming. And opposing those policies means that you believe something else is more important than that. In the case of global warming, it's more important to protect your political cronies. In Lieberman's case, based on his lack of consistency, it's getting even with liberals.

This is why people are reading bloggers, Washington Post. Because the people dealing with these issues on a daily basis don't care whether you're getting invited to the latest Washington party, or whether your sources will give you the best insider gossip. They're looking for actual information.

Posted by: tracy2 | December 15, 2009 2:23 PM | Report abuse

Talking about health reform in life-or-death terms makes sense to me.

In a rational world there would be a greater burden of proof when upping the ante from dollars to lives.

Counterargument as dork metaphor: Being rational about policy all the time is about as smart as showing up at a Klingon convention in a Vulcan costume. You're at the wrong party.

We all know that some people will say anything to justify their beliefs, evidence be damned. I wish things weren't that way, but I haven't the foggiest how to change it.

Until someone does, I think it best for progressives to be a little less Vulcan and a little more Klingon about what they stand for. Talking about more than money is a good start.

Posted by: itstrue | December 15, 2009 2:23 PM | Report abuse

If Ezra followed the heartfelt logic of his feeling about the human consequences of health-care reform to actually demand affordable health care for all, I'd be more impressed. As it is, he supports giving the private health care market millions of new captives (um, customers) via the mandate with paper-thin subsidies to cover costs that will continue to rise. All because he believes in the msytical healing power of market competition (the Exchange Pony!) to bring down prices. Wouldn't the logic of not tolerating needless death and bad health also lead to demanding proven solutions that the rest of the industrialized world already uses? That would lower costs, not just "bend the curve," and make it more affordable for everyone either through single payer or rigorous regulation on the Dutch or Swiss model? Oh, yeah, I forgot, Ezra says we'll do that "some day," but today's the day we deliver the customer-captives.

Posted by: redscott | December 15, 2009 2:23 PM | Report abuse

Ezra: in addition to saying part of what needs to be said about Lieberman, you've also further unmasked the ignorance of TNR's Marty Peretz. He posts that he doesn't think he's ever read anything you've written--I guess because he's too busy with his clacque to stay informed.

Posted by: Bertilak | December 15, 2009 2:24 PM | Report abuse

I think your argument is faulty in the use of "lives". Granted that we routinely talk that way in policy discussions, but it's probably misleading ("probably" because I'm not bothering to read the studies). A truer and more complete picture would be to say 150,000 people will die earlier than they would otherwise because they lack access to medical care, or because their medical is only through emergency rooms. HCR may extend some lives by 1 month or 80 years; lack of HCR means some lives are shorter; nothing ensures perpetual life.

Posted by: bharshaw | December 15, 2009 2:27 PM | Report abuse

P.S. That's properly spelled "claque" (my own fawning admirers were distracting me).

Posted by: Bertilak | December 15, 2009 2:29 PM | Report abuse

Every instance I can think of where someone is accused of having gone 'over the line' or been 'over the top' with their rhetoric it has been because they had the audacity to point out that the Emperor is naked.

Short of folks calling out for violence, free speech is free for a reason. It's not a coincidence that Matt Tabbi attracts a lot of attention, even when he's wrong or that Al Franken managed to become a Senator.

Let us not even begin to mention the twisting of language necessary to debate the wisdom of warfare.

Suffice to say, insisting on civility while people are suffering and dying unecessarily is highly uncivil.

Posted by: PhD9 | December 15, 2009 2:30 PM | Report abuse

Remember, even suggesting that the American non-system of healthcare is cruel and immoral fails the Village civility test which is required to get you into the main WaPo building.

One would think that a Cato-ite like Lane ought to be celebrating the unique method of allocating and paying for healthcare found in the US, which gives people the exquisite liberty of going untreated or being bankrupted by their medical bills. He ought to have the courage of his libertarian convictions and defend such things as a price worth paying, with a hearty "sucks to be you!"

Posted by: pseudonymousinnc | December 15, 2009 2:41 PM | Report abuse

Ezra - Despite the IOM study you cite, it is not clear whether uninsurance leads to higher mortality. Other studies find differently. So i'm not even sure your original premise - that failure to pass HC refrom will lead to 150,000 additional deaths -- is even valid.

And, as we all know access to health care and access to health insurance are very different things even though they are often equated with each other.

Posted by: MBP2 | December 15, 2009 2:42 PM | Report abuse

just to help out our poor friend ostap66: when your objection to the bill (involving throwing overboard something you embraced 3 months earlier) on this supposed minor issue is sufficient to lead you to filibuster the whole bill and guarantee it won't pass, then yes, we can say joe lieberman very specifically and directly produced a less optimal public policy that would lead to earlier deaths for many people. absolutely.

as for klein and lane, i noted yesterday that despite my having an incentive as a berkshire hathaway shareholder to give the wapo traffic, ezra is the only wapo site i go to.

and i also noted that i knew nothing of charles lane, but now i do: i know that he's part of what's wrong with the wapo and why i don't give it traffic.

this is a human being who is perfectly comfortable with giving a platform to charles krauthammer's ravings, in which krauthammers accuses people he disagrees with of being literally insane, and routinely demonizes those with a less militarist view of american national security as traitors who support america's enemies - untrue ravings that would, at best, be appropriate for a blog comment - but finds himself unable to live with properly characterizing the outcome of joe lieberman's actions.

or, to put it another way: ezra klein's tone is fine. charles lane's tone is apalling.

Posted by: howard16 | December 15, 2009 2:44 PM | Report abuse

Ezra,

Good luck supporting the health care "compromise."

You seem to suffer from the same fatal flaw as Obama. That is, you believe in the power of wonkish analysis to bring about change. But change requires that people are moved to support change. This is a time of truly vicious class struggle and calls for directness and passion.

Posted by: academic2 | December 15, 2009 2:53 PM | Report abuse

Let's be honest, EK -- this is a Villager telling an uppidy younun' to STFU.

Posted by: AZProgressive | December 15, 2009 2:56 PM | Report abuse

redscott, is there some "affordable healthcare for all" bill being debated on the floor of the Senate right now? Has it passed the House? I would *love* a single payer plan, but it's not a currently debated bill. As Ezra's been arguing for a while, killing this bill because it's not perfect does not mean single payer passes next year. In fact, killing this bill probably means a less ambitious bill in ten years or so.

You can criticize people for supporting imperfect legislation when there is a perfect option that they could support and actually get signed into law. Waiting for perfection means nothing ever gets done.

Posted by: MosBen | December 15, 2009 3:06 PM | Report abuse

There's something amusing to me about Lane's attempts to argue with Ezra. I mean it's clear that Lane is way out of his league here, and the more he argues, the more he sounds like an idiot. On the other hand, there is also something frustrating about the poor quality of journalism exhibited in this case by Lane. This I think is one of the many great things about the esteemed Mr. Klein: he is like an oasis in the desert of poor journalism. When you read so many journalists (like Lane) who get it wrong, it is a relief to find one who gets it right, one who makes sense. Ezra, thank you.

Posted by: filibustered | December 15, 2009 3:12 PM | Report abuse

Lane really ought to stop. He looks worse with every exchange. He must not be familiar with your work or he never would have started this. Live and learn.

Posted by: eRobin1 | December 15, 2009 3:12 PM | Report abuse

Ezra,

One issue that I haven't seen debated much is the (even greater) incentive the gov't will now have to keep insurance premiums under control. Under all of these bills, the amount a household must pay for insurance premiums is capped, at a % of income. With wage growth obviously much lower than premium growth, doesn't this create a situation for the amount of gov't subsidies to rapidly increase? And if so, wouldn't the gov't have both great incentive and great negotiating power, within the exchange, to control premium increases?

Am I missing something in this bill? The way it seems to me, a family's premiums will now pretty much stay stagnant, as long as their income is stagnant.

Posted by: truth5 | December 15, 2009 3:16 PM | Report abuse

ostap666: There are hundreds of thousands of 55+ out of a job, neither a spring chicken nor a senior, Americans with no form of any healthcare. These are not statistics, but flesh and blood human beings, not poor enough to qualify for medicaid, but too poor to afford the outrageously expensive insurence and the health care. Joe Lieberman is a sorry excuse for a public servant. I am sure, he and his republican co-horts would rather set up a "Department of Prayer" with the mission to earnestly pray for the death of this group than to allow them to buy into medicare. Unfortunately, a democracy can produce incompetent leaders. The people of CT made a terrible mistake, and the nation as a whole suffers its consequences. Stupid decisions can be deadly, and Lieberman is a prime example.

Posted by: samchannar | December 15, 2009 3:17 PM | Report abuse

If I'm not mistaken, Lane is an editor.
Um, can you get fired for eating him alive like this?

Posted by: adamiani | December 15, 2009 3:21 PM | Report abuse

--" One wag pointed out that many deaths are caused by automobile accidents, and I do not advocate banning automobiles. And he's right. I will make an argument that the benefits of automobile use outweigh the deaths caused by accidents."--

And many argue that socialist programs like health care "reform" have the same effect on the economy that banning automobiles would have on transportation.

*Forcing* people to spend money in ways they would rather not always creates unforeseen imbalances and negative effects.

Posted by: msoja | December 15, 2009 3:38 PM | Report abuse

*****With wage growth obviously much lower than premium growth, doesn't this create a situation for the amount of gov't subsidies to rapidly increase? And if so, wouldn't the gov't have both great incentive and great negotiating power, within the exchange, to control premium increases?*****

truth: I don't see your logic. The "government" isn't an autonomous being, but a big organization run by human beings. A congressman or cabinet secretary's salary doesn't decrease if the government is forced to borrow more money to pay for a larger-than-expected bill for health insurance subsidies, so it's not really on point to talk about "incentives." In fact, the evidence I believe mostly shows that the incentives of politicians typically lead them to do everything in their power to shield their constituents from any kind of pain, and then take credit for doing so. In other words, there will be a strong incentive for many people in Congress to simply keep the subsidies (and therefore health insurance profits) as generous as possible.

Posted by: Jasper99 | December 15, 2009 3:42 PM | Report abuse

Virginia7 posted "Here's a thought experiment: Instead of an abstract number - 50,000, 100,000, whatever - suppose you were able to come up with a list of one hundred specific people, with names and addresses, who will die next year unless HCR passes. Or for that matter fifty, or ten or even one person - but a specific person with a name and a photo and a history."

Here's one person - the late Jacqueline Kelly of jersey City.

http://www.nj.com/hudson/index.ssf/2009/12/uninsured_jersey_city_mother_l.html

Perhaps we should send this link to Lieberman's office.

Posted by: tracymohr | December 15, 2009 3:48 PM | Report abuse

You do realize once they crank the salons back up, you are so not invited, right?

Posted by: msporter1 | December 15, 2009 4:28 PM | Report abuse

Honesty, Klein, will get you nowhere in this business.

Posted by: slag | December 15, 2009 4:29 PM | Report abuse

During the period that 130,000 people may have died partly as a result of lack of health insurance, 10,000,000 babies/fetuses actually were killed in abortions. I guess that makes "pro-choice" Senators mass murderers by your logic.

Posted by: DavidBerkian | December 15, 2009 4:32 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, I hope you're reading the comments on the Chuck Lane post you link to at the top of yours. Representative comment: "it's pretty entertaining to watch Klein use this limp rag Lane to polish his spectacles with."

Posted by: thehersch | December 15, 2009 4:40 PM | Report abuse

****truth: I don't see your logic. The "government" isn't an autonomous being, but a big organization run by human beings. A congressman or cabinet secretary's salary doesn't decrease if the government is forced to borrow more money to pay for a larger-than-expected bill for health insurance subsidies, so it's not really on point to talk about "incentives." In fact, the evidence I believe mostly shows that the incentives of politicians typically lead them to do everything in their power to shield their constituents from any kind of pain, and then take credit for doing so. In other words, there will be a strong incentive for many people in Congress to simply keep the subsidies (and therefore health insurance profits) as generous as possible. ****

Jasper, I agree totally. I guess my point was, the way I see it, all future health premium increases are going to be on the backs of the gov't (taxpayer) under this bill. If those grow out of control, it could be yet another fiscal budget buster for the gov't. I guess the fiscal balance comes from the excise tax on "cadillac" plans will offset the ever-increasing subsidy costs.

Posted by: truth5 | December 15, 2009 4:48 PM | Report abuse

Lane is a troll, albeit a well paid troll.

But you Ezra are continuing to use the 'This bill will save one to 100,000 lives' line.

I dispute that. There is nothing in this bill (the Senates) which will impose cost controls. It just says the Insurance companies MUST CARRY you, not how much they can charge. You, I and the rest of us know that as soon as a company is forced to take you they will send your premiums to the moon. I feel this bill won't save anyone because those very people won't be able to afford the premiums the policy is offered at. And then Democrats will be saddled with having increased everybody's premiums and voted out of office for a decade.

Show me where I'm wrong.

Posted by: kindness1 | December 15, 2009 5:20 PM | Report abuse

Oh Ezra, your logic and reasoning is just so rich with contradiction and hypocrisy! Let me see if understand you correctly: the rhetoric on socialism and “death panels” is untrue, while your assertion that blocking certain forms of health care reform is tantamount to killing people because … why now? ... because you say so? I would call you an idiotic liberal Democrat, but that would be redundant now, wouldn’t it? Besides, I wouldn’t want Charles Lane to consider me uncivil, even though “[s]ometimes, reality is uncivil.”

Posted by: braunt | December 15, 2009 5:46 PM | Report abuse

My two cents worth. I generally enjoy Ezra's blog, though I am very different politically. But I was disappointed in his comments about Lieberman. You "figured it out" that he must be doing this for contemptible motives, and doesn't care about all those people dying. Because you're angry with him. You don't think so, but that's what's happening. He's interfering, so you knock him. I don't think that's right.

Posted by: MikeR4 | December 15, 2009 5:56 PM | Report abuse

Braunt ... seems you didn't read Ezra's posts very carefully. He doesn't just make up an arbitrary number of the number of lives lost if healthcare is not reformed. To wit:

"I'm using the methodology developed by the Institute of Medicine and applied to 2006 data by the Urban Institute, which left me with a rough estimate of 150,000 lives saved over the next 10 years.... Harvard's recent study would actually yield a far higher estimate, as they calculated annual deaths due to insurance status at 45,000."

Posted by: lgraham1 | December 15, 2009 6:21 PM | Report abuse

How come when it comes to health care, talking about the near-certain consequences of not acting – thousands of dead Americans – is bad manners, but when it comes to terrorism, talking about the possible consequences of not acting – thousands of dead Americans – is de rigueur. Why is that exactly? I think what Charles Lane really objects to is Villagers being called out on their moral bankruptcy.

Posted by: dm9871 | December 15, 2009 6:59 PM | Report abuse

Call me crazy, but doesn't this whole thing with Medicare buy-in boil down to this:

people older than 55 pay the highest premiums.

let them buy into Medicare, and that drives down premiums (or could) for their largest revenue demographic.

I understand that the older you are, the more medical care you need. I am sure the insurance industry is coming out well ahead on that group of people.

Posted by: firenze_italia | December 15, 2009 7:06 PM | Report abuse

lgraham1, I have indeed read Mr. Klein’s posts (that’s plural, meaning not just this one, but several of his other rhetorical diatribes involved in this controversy). Just because he gets his numbers from a study doesn’t make his assertions any more correct. Klein uses the Urban Institute study to infer that more people die solely due to the lack of medical insurance. Besides being a classic logical fallacy (cum hoc ergo propter hoc – with this, therefore because of this – assumes that correlation implies causation), Klein considers no other underlying reasons for the difference – poverty, education, criminality, bad habits, or a lack of personal responsibility. If a person willfully disregards his own health or neglects to buy medical insurance of his own accord, is it Joe Lieberman’s fault if he meets an early demise? How dare Joe let anyone die in a car accident before the government insures her! Using Klein’s logic, if s a study claimed more people died when it rained, Congress would be guilty of genocide for not legislating perpetually sunny days!

I am not completely dismissing the correlation outlined in the UI study, but all it shows is the need to uncover roots causes. From what I’ve read, most of the involuntarily uninsured are those that are currently out of work or the poor. Others are voluntarily uninsured because they choose not to obtain coverage due to personal reasons, like the desire to spend their money on competing priorities. Yes, the government can provide the unemployed or poor health care coverage (it does – it’s called Medicaid for the poor and COBRA for some of the unemployed), but all that means is that those people are still unemployed or poor, only with insurance. It doesn't solve the underlying problems.

The best thing to do is to promote a flourishing economy that gainfully employs people and to prepare citizens to take advantage of those employment opportunities. In that way people can take personal responsibility and purchase the insurance of their choice, not simply the shoved-down-ones-throat vanilla government-run health insurance. There are ways to fix the current problems with the health care and insurance system without creating a Frankenstein, as the current Democratic proposal would do. Even if we disagree on solutions, it doesn't mean opposing sides are promoting genocide. All the flame claims do is make it unable to resolve the issues at all.

Posted by: braunt | December 15, 2009 7:09 PM | Report abuse

firenze--you're close. The insurance companies pay more in medical costs for the over 55 crowd, so they really don't mind losing them. The real opposition comes from the providers (hospitals, doctors and the like). Medicare pays less to providers than private insurance, so providers are fighting to keep 55-64 year olds in private insurance. The insurance companies don't make money on this demographic, but the providers do.

Posted by: danimal1 | December 15, 2009 7:26 PM | Report abuse

braunt: perhaps you ought to read the studies instead of assume advanced naivete as the only basis for an outcome with which you don't agree.

and you give your own point away when you assume that ezra said anyone was "promoting genocide" when he said no such thing.

the chain of causation is very clear: people without health insurance often go without routine care. because they are without routine care, problems that could be taken care of readily are not; ultimately, these becomes emergency problems in many cases, and the direct upshot is that people die younger than they otherwise would.

and noting that 3 months ago, joe lieberman agreed to an approach that as of sunday he thought rendered the entire bill broken to the point of not passing, and that therefore, objectively, he is contributing to early deaths is perfectly legitimate and not at all flaming.

it is not a claim i would aim at the gop, even though i think the outcome of the gop position is the same. but at no point did any single gop senator embrace the position that lieberman embraced 3 months ago; having made the case for the importance of getting people insured, lieberman now bears the burden of his pathetic little acting out.

Posted by: howard16 | December 15, 2009 7:32 PM | Report abuse

--"How come when it comes to health care, talking about the near-certain consequences of not acting – thousands of dead Americans – is bad manners, but when it comes to terrorism, talking about the possible consequences of not acting – thousands of dead Americans – is de rigueur."--

I believe that's the Fallacy of Composition. Similar components of things ("thousands of dead Americans") don't necessarily mean their containing groups are equal (Things that are legitimate provence of government).

It's generally noted that "Defence" is a specified component of the Constitution, while "stealing money from one group of people to provide health insurance to another group of people" and "forcing people to buy health insurance against their will" aren't.

If you were to claim that defense might also be left to the marketplace, I'd agree with you, but for today, maybe you should just work on your logic.

Posted by: msoja | December 15, 2009 7:33 PM | Report abuse

All those people creating crazy scenarios where Ezra supposedly believes Congress needs to legislate against driving, eating, and rainy days need to stop and actually read the argument he's making with regard to Lieberman's opposition to HCR. Same goes for those of you using Ezra's posts to attack Markos and other progressives.

Ezra did *not* say that, because the bill will save lives then anyone who has any opposition to it is a mass murderer. Instead, he pointed to evidence that the bill would save lives, pointed out that Lieberman himself seems to have concurred with that evidence as recently as three months ago, and then argues that reasonable people could conceivably disagree with that evidence or with various and sundry portions of HCR, but that Lieberman has shown no evidence of disagreeing with any provision of HCR along lines of reason. Lieberman's most recent rationalization for threatening to fillibuster the bill is barely even in English and certainly shows no signs of rational thought. Lieberman's own justifications have generally been internally contradictory, and when they are not, they show no signs of being connected to anything in the outside world in any way. Ezra indicated that he's given Lieberman and his representatives numerous opportunities to give some sort of reason for his opposition to HCR, but thus far no one from his camp has seen fit to so much as attempt such a justification.

Ezra's point was that if, as seems to be true by all evidence we can observe, Lieberman is trying to kill health care reform simply because he wants to exact revenge on Dems, even though he knows the bill will in fact save many thousands of lives, then Lieberman is a very dangerous, pathetic, despicable person. There are lots of opponents of HCR from both the left and the right who have actual reasons to oppose the bill. They may be right or wrong on the merits, but those people are different beasts from Lieberman, who is simply vile.

Posted by: david391 | December 15, 2009 7:59 PM | Report abuse

"I objected to Klein's piece about Lieberman for the same reason I objected to the right's scare talk about socialism and 'death panels,'" Lane writes.

I do not recall Lane objecting to scare talk about death panels. I haven't read everything he ever wrote, but I do recall
http://tinyurl.com/y9rwg4p

the supreme number one unsurpassed "opinions on shape of earth differ" op-ed he wrote about how there wasn't quite mandatory death counselling in the billl but ...

That column http://tinyurl.com/nv7vje
didn't include the phrases "vile smear" or "mass murder" (I checked). In fact it discussed the topic of a vile and totally false claim without naming anyone who lied about the content of the bill at all. Evidently the lie about the bill is OK, but your true statements about Lieberman aren't.

Most of the column was devoted to an extraordinary unconvincing argument that critics of the bill exagerate but have a point.

Posted by: rjw88 | December 15, 2009 8:55 PM | Report abuse

@msoja: That is not a fallacy of composition. In fact, it is not a fallacious statement. You could argue that the risk of dying due to a lack of health insurance is not comparable to the risk of being blow up by terrorists, you could argue the risk of the former is not well-established. But, if you accept both, then the comparison is valid. A fallacy of composition is a conclusion is drawn about the whole when the given premises only apply to its pieces.

@braunt: The Institute of Medicine study does not make any statement that a lack of insurance CAUSES death. The study demonstrates a correlation between lack of insurance and increased mortality. It extrapolates this relationship to the number of uninsured and arrives an estimation of the number of people who may have shorter life expectancies due to a lack of insurance. Empirical studies, in all fields of science, rarely demonstrate causation. Instead, their purpose is often to show a correlation and/or the strength of correlation between sets of observable phenomena. Scientists can use these studies to support or develop theories that may propose some sort causality - theories that explain the empirical correlations. Nevertheless, experimentation does not, by itself, reveal causalities. Yet, we do not dismiss the entirety of science on the basis of cum hoc ergo propter hoc fallacies, do we? I call this the "fallacy of reflexively screaming 'correlation does not imply causation'".

It's fascinating the number of logicians that roam the Intertubes.

Posted by: atlasfugged | December 15, 2009 9:10 PM | Report abuse

Game, Set, Match - Ezra Klein.

Charles Lane thou hast been pwned.

Posted by: atlasfugged | December 15, 2009 9:24 PM | Report abuse

Ezra has won. By a mile.

Lieberman himself has admitted he did it to make sure Democrats wouldn't be happy. He was troubled by the overly enthusiastic reaction to the proposal by some liberals.

Posted by: wimprange | December 15, 2009 9:38 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, there was no failure to communicate. You communicated your views perfectly. And anybody who has followed Lieberman closely throughout the years saw this coming.

By a mile.

Strike that. From acros the Atlantic Ocean. I'm Dutch and even I could see what was driving him. He even had no compunction to campaign against Obama. Even hoped McCain would choose him as his VP.

Posted by: wimprange | December 15, 2009 9:45 PM | Report abuse

I'm glad that msoggy the Randroid is here, because I hope he can gladly affirm what Charles Lane is too cowardly to do so:--

That if some people get sick and some people die and some people go bankrupt and some people lose their homes, then that's a price well worth paying, as long as there's no whiff of "socialism" (as if the soggy dullard knows what that means!) in the air.

Posted by: pseudonymousinnc | December 15, 2009 10:13 PM | Report abuse

The numbers $900 billion and 150,000 lives are rather coincidental. Since cost benefit analysis became the bread and butter of policy makers in the 80s, the OMB and other groups have generally used the figure that one life saved is worth 6 million dollars. 150,000 x 6,000,000 = 9,000,000,000 exactly! So to spend $900 billion on something, we should expect to save at least 150,000 lives. If the number of lives saved was significantly lower than that, then we might think the health care bill cost too much (at least if only looking at it in terms of lives saved).

The 6 million figure was calculated in the late 70s by looking at how much extra compensation workers required for an increased risk of death. They found $600 for a chance of death of 1 in 10000, which multiplied gives us 6 million. Generally the 6 million figured is called the value of a statistical human life (SHL). There are reasons to think this number should be adjusted for inflation, to perhaps 8 or 10 million. There is also reason to think this number should be limited at $10 million, because other research suggests for every $10 million lost in the economy, on average another life will be lost.

For one of many articles on this subject, look at http://www.jstor.org/stable/20053838 or more generally just google "statistical human life"

Posted by: Levijohn | December 15, 2009 10:43 PM | Report abuse

atlasfugged, you are wrong. "Risk of dying" does not equate to "government must do something about it."

Sure, that's what "progressives" and dimwits *want* it to mean, but that's not what it *means*. At least not in an ostensibly free society.

And it doesn't stand as a principle, if you bother to inspect it, otherwise Klein *would* call for a ban on automobiles, or at least call for legislation demanding the *right* to side impact airbags (and every other life saving device that the rich enjoy), even for those who cannot afford them, which would then fully politicize the auto industry, as health care reform is completing the politicization of the health care industry.

Posted by: msoja | December 16, 2009 8:39 AM | Report abuse

Others might have said the same thing--too many comments, and too many crankish comments, for me to bear reading. So if I repeat, sorry.

Ezra, it seems to be like this: 1) Failure to expand health coverage will mean something like 150,000 people die prematurely over the next 10 years. 2) Lieberman's statements and actions provide ample evidence that among his leading motives are a desire to stick it to the lefties. 3) Lieberman knows as well as you do that the Democratic leadership will not let the bill die over the public option/Medicare expansion.

So attributing failure of the bill to Lieberman still seems premature. He demanded a compromise. A terrible, wasteful, stupid, mean-spirited compromise. But anyhow, his compromise demand was not "fail to expand health coverage" it was "expand health coverage in this other (wasteful, stupid, mean-spirited) way." So for the time being, he seems largely off the hook for those 150,000 lives. Now, that changes if the bill comes back out of conference containing a provision that Lieberman doesn't like and he supports a filibuster or votes against the bill. At that point he is putting his petulance above other people's lives. (And while he utterly disgusts me, he won't be more guilty on this count than most or all the Republicans who join the blockade faction.)

Am I missing something in the logic here that makes Lieberman blameworthy (on this specific issue) just yet?

Posted by: JonathanTE | December 16, 2009 8:52 AM | Report abuse

Ezra -- you destroyed Lane. I have to laugh. Man, he must be seething!

and thank you for saying this, when so few other journalists are willing to speak of it in human terms:

" And that's why it's important to talk, at least occasionally, in terms of lives, rather than retreating to the safe sterility of policies. It makes the stakes clear, when otherwise they are all too easy to forget amidst the daily soap opera of the public option."

Posted by: drindl | December 16, 2009 11:57 AM | Report abuse

@msoja: I won't dispute what you said. You're entitled to your beliefs. Likewise, I won't dispute the point you were trying to make in your original comment. With regard to your original comment, I merely pointed out in my reply that your accusation of Klein committing a fallacy of composition was incorrect. The statement from Klein that you quoted in the original comment contained no such fallacy. Aside from that I neither agreed nor disagreed with your original comment.

Posted by: atlasfugged | December 17, 2009 12:35 AM | Report abuse

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