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January 03, 2006

What Was Slate Thinking?

Man. I mean, just, man. Three quick things on the essay I feel safe to crown frontrunner for most assholish article of 2006:

• There's no such thing as ventilator insurance. There's health insurance. Making up ventilator insurance with a cost of $75 is a cheap trick -- I wouldn't take that deal either, it'd be like buying knee replacement insurance, or sideswiped-by-Toyota-RAV4-on-rainy-night-beneath-crescent-moon insurance. On their own, most every health problem is too remote to justify individualized insurance, but taken in the aggregate, serious health problems asymptotically approach certainty as you age, and most everyone would like health insurance to protect against being pulled from their ventilator, or feeding tube, or antibiotics, before seeing their mother.

• Landsburg defines compassion as "sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it." He then says there's nothing compassionate about giving his made up "ventilator insurance" to a 21-year-old who wants something else. Which has nothing at all to do with the relative compassion of ripping a 27-year-old terminal cancer patient from her ventilator before her mother can arrive to say goodbye. Also, you know what else isn't compassionate? Setting up false choices.

• Steven Landsburg is a dick. And I respect that. If only all folks with his opinions were as blithely, publicly evil -- we'd have national health insurance tomorrow. Instead, the rest couch their cold-eyed cruelty in sympathetic pap and smooth lies. The obviously demonic are always less dangerous than their media-savvy cousins. And Landsburg, while infuriating, has not only made a pathetically poor argument relying on an imaginary position ("ventilator insurance"), but has managed to render an already wronged victim all the more sympathetic by laying bare the calculations that led to her death. He's either the world's best practitioner of progressive political performance art or the left's most accidental ally.

January 3, 2006 | Permalink

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This fits nicely into Slate's general M.O. -- a magazine written for liberals, but where everything is designed to pique them, either by addressing their curiosity or by infuriating them them so that they'll keep coming back.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Jan 3, 2006 1:50:49 PM

Meh, you read way too far. I saw, "Here, for the edification of bloggers everywhere..." and immediately lost interest. Anyone capable of wording as arrogant as that is a dick. No need to read more.

Posted by: Gary Sugar | Jan 3, 2006 1:53:18 PM

You know, I read this article this morning, and just stared at my computer, stunned, for a few minutes. I'm glad you addressed it.

Posted by: sam | Jan 3, 2006 2:06:08 PM

Dear lord - Steven Landsberg is an utter asshole. It so irks me when people of his ilk get to inflict their willfully misguided ideas on the public. It reflects poorly on economists and adds nothing to understanding actual important choices in public policy. He has written such unbelievably awful stuff along these lines that I get a violently negative physical reaction whenever I hear his name.

Posted by: rebecca | Jan 3, 2006 2:17:56 PM

I think the use of ventilator insurance was just a device and I think he could have made the same absurd argument if he had substituted health insurance in its place.

Many people, including myself when I was in my 20's forego health insurance for spending money. It's stupid but it happens.

While Landsburg's argument seems insane, it's really a logical consequence of HSAs and other consumer-directed health plans in general. Left to their own, people will make bad choices regarding their own health. Not just poor people, but most. That would seem to be an argument for mandatory insurance of some kind rather than against it but Landsburg obviously seems to feel that if you make a poorly-informed choice at 21 you deserve to die for it, even decades later.

Posted by: quietstorm | Jan 3, 2006 2:26:29 PM

I vaguely remember he had the most transparently phony reason to vote for Bush in the 2004 Slate columnist roundup. I don't remember what it was, and won't pay him the respect of looking it up, but it definitely was lame!

Posted by: Allen K. | Jan 3, 2006 2:43:41 PM

Allen K.,

He claimed that Kerry was a racist for wanting to put the brakes on outsourcing. It was really a groty thing to read.

Posted by: TJ | Jan 3, 2006 2:59:21 PM

Nicely put, Ezra.

Posted by: David Bander | Jan 3, 2006 3:12:57 PM

Ezra, I'd agree that Landsburg is a dick and a fairly crappy economist (in my view). That said, I think he could have put his "ventilator insurance" in terms of "adding ventilator coverage to a universal insurance policy." In such a situation, a $75 lifetime cost may not be excessive, but I think he is correct that it isn't something that most of us would put a huge priority on.

In that respect, I agree with Landsburg insofar as I agree that when it comes to my next $75 earned, I'd be reluctant to see it going to ensuring that I'll have ventilator coverage if I ever need it.

Out of all the problems facing the country collectively, even in health issues, this is a relatively minor one.

Posted by: Matt Singer | Jan 3, 2006 4:17:20 PM

Out of all the problems facing the country collectively, even in health issues, this is a relatively minor one.

Which is why "ventilator insurance" is useless as an illustration. The only types of insurance policies that break down the various "coverages" and price everything a la carte are ripoffs. The issue for this woman was not that her family couldn't afford the ventilator. It's that the total costs of her healthcare were beyond what the family could provide.

The problem isn't that poor people would rather buy milk than ventilator insurance. The problem is that poor people have such a hard time buying milk that they can't even consider insurance of any kind. That's the problem facing this country, and it is also the problem that Landsburg intentionally seeks to cover up.

Posted by: Stephen | Jan 3, 2006 4:46:07 PM

I think the curious question is why no Terri Schiavo like outrage from the right? I mean the woman was alive, wasn't she?

Posted by: weboy | Jan 3, 2006 4:55:21 PM

I think the curious question is why no Terri Schiavo like outrage from the right? I mean the woman was alive, wasn't she?

She was alive and conscious, and thus impure. The purest good of these people is life in the 100% abstract, non-conscious sense, because those are the ones who can't sin. Thus the sentimentalization of fetuses and Schaivo cases. If Schaivo had really been able to speak coherently, they wouldn't have given a damn about her.

Posted by: DonBoy | Jan 3, 2006 5:02:04 PM

The problem is that poor people have such a hard time buying milk that they can't even consider insurance of any kind.

Hell, a person could afford to get the milk, and lets even add in a cell phone bill, but private health insurance is SO expensive beyond those costs that even if they wanted to choose the insurance, they couldn't.

Posted by: Adrock | Jan 3, 2006 5:16:49 PM

Stephen gets this exactly right. Ventilator insurance was a rhetorical trick without which the rest would've failed. he wasn't being unclear, he was being a cheat. The woman lacked health insurance, and if you replace health insurance with ventilator insurance, the article changes radically.

Posted by: Ezra | Jan 3, 2006 5:20:45 PM

This is evil. This isn't a thought experiment. This is a real person who died because she was poor. She suffocated because we were too fucking cheap to keep her breathing. It took her 15 minutes to die.

Man oh man, I think it would be poetic if this guy were in a horrible car accident one day. And I really hope he'd understand when we didn't send the rescue workers to pull him out with the jaws of life and take him to the ER (at an estimated cost of $80,000!), because if he'd really valued his life, he wouldn't have bought a cheap car, he'd have spent the $10k extra for a Volvo, which everyone knows is the safest car anywhere. I mean, if he won't make the investment in his own life, why should we bail him out?

I hope he finds that calculation comforting.

But more, I hope it takes him a full 15 minutes to drown in his own blood.

Posted by: theorajones | Jan 3, 2006 7:18:12 PM

Tirhas Habtegris made the poor decision to emmigrate to the only western country without single payer healthcare.

Posted by: Joe o | Jan 3, 2006 8:05:15 PM

Man, you don’t know the half of it….Undeniably evil is what being in the Insurance Industry is all about. I had an interview with AIG a few months ago. I was forced to go to the information session the evening before (Not that I was all that keen on AIG, but interview practice makes perfect).
During the Info session the speakers explained the direction the insurance industry was headed. Ever hear of cruise insurance? If your cruise is canceled for whatever reason, you get your money back. It’s an example of creating the perception of greater risk, where in reality it is marginal. The insurance company takes on big money for the premiums, and pays back very little, even less then usual. Margins are huge, and this is only the beginning. Keep your eye out for this trend and don’t fall for it.

Hey check out my new blog!

http://evilbobby.blogspot.com/

Posted by: DAV | Jan 3, 2006 9:25:38 PM

I hope it takes him a full 15 minutes to drown in his own blood.

More evidence of the caring and all feeling liberal mindset. Thanks for making this painfully clear.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Jan 3, 2006 9:48:35 PM

And thanks for showing us the example of the differnce between a liberal who just gets angry and fantasizes about such things, and the conservative shitheads who let it happen in real life to someone because they're poor.

Posted by: Josh Jasper | Jan 3, 2006 10:12:58 PM

I have just worked a 11 hour day. I am so wooped I can't even begin to explain - I was groggy and could hardly think when I got home. Reading that piece in slate just ripped right through all that. I am not stunned - I am absolutely mindboggled.

I live in Oregon - twice voters in this state have passed a measure allowing Orgonians to recieve physician prescribed pills to end their lives in the face of debilitating illness. This is going to come in front of the Supreme Court, challenged by the bush regime. The same bush that created the climate in Texas that allows attrocities like this to happen.

The bush administration supported legislation that would have allowed hospitals to turn away patients from the ER if they have no ability to pay. They have such a ridiculously transparent hatred for life it's unbelievable - except when it comes to invading individuals private choices that effect them - then they have to come to rescue and save us from our fucking selves, they can't keep us alive if we're poor but by gods if we make a choice regarding our own personal descisions that they don't like they are right there to stick their fucking noses in.

I have said it before and it hurt me to say it. It went against everything I was taught about democracy. I am no longer sad to say it - sad about what it reveals about the body politic in this country - but the thought of saying otherwise makes my fucking ulcer bleed. mr bush is NOT my president.

Posted by: DuWayne | Jan 3, 2006 10:39:39 PM

"I think the curious question is why no Terri Schiavo like outrage from the right? I mean the woman was alive, wasn't she?"

Posted by: weboy

Because the religious right, for the most part, isn't going to buck the money here.

Posted by: Barry | Jan 3, 2006 11:03:38 PM

And thanks for showing us the example of the differnce between a liberal who just gets angry and fantasizes about such things...

Terri's death was not just some liberal fantasy.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Jan 4, 2006 8:40:18 AM

Whenever your policy assumptions are tested at the extremes it isn't pretty. The writer is obviously coming at healthcare from a right wing, conservative, there's-no-free-lunch perspective and in the Baylor case he sites, the choice is thus between someone dying and him keeping true to his politics (there are similar extremes for the left wing, liberal, everyone-gets-equal-access-to-care position which can lead to rationing and denial of care as well).

But this author gets an F- for being smug about it and using this case as a teaching moment. It is not a political teaching moment. It is a sad and terribly unfortunate moment. And it is not a shining example of his policy assumptions at work. It's one that should cause him to pause and question those assumptions.

Trapier
www.isemmelweis.com

Posted by: Trapier K. Michael | Jan 4, 2006 10:36:16 AM

Terri's death was not just some liberal fantasy.

I wonder if Mr. Jones' hair gets mussed when the cluetrain roars through his station without stopping, because it knows that all he's going to do is ignore it anyway, no matter how many times people give him a ticket in the exact same thread.

More to the point, I'm waiting with bated breath to hear how this is all the queers' fault.

Posted by: paperwight | Jan 4, 2006 11:29:38 AM

The bush administration supported legislation that would have allowed hospitals to turn away patients from the ER if they have no ability to pay.

My understanding, which I admit could be wrong, is that Congress, at the behest of the WH, did relax federal standards regarding provision of emergency care to those without ability to pay. I have heard that Colorado, in particular, is a place where you do NOT want to get sick or in an accident without insurance.

Of course, there are still county and city hospitals that provide treatment to those unable to pay. My father-in-law is a chaplain at one such hospital. However, due to rising costs you now have to prove residence in the county to receive free/reduced cost treatment. It used to be that anyone who showed up got care no matter what.

Personally, I blame illegal immigrant lesbians, impregnated by gay men from San Francisco while watching Michael Moore documentaries, who get into ambulances near border crossings and wait for their labor to be almost done before coming into the United States to give birth to American citizens.

And terrorists.

Posted by: Stephen | Jan 4, 2006 12:00:05 PM

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