By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
Yves has written a number of posts on devolution, starting with Welcome to the World Where Things Don’t Work Well. Naturally, one thinks at once of ObamaCare:
While extreme outcomes make for better stories, it may be that the US (and perhaps other advanced economies) go through a period of whimpers rather than bangs, of a grinding fall in competence that consumers accept because it’s just too hard to demand better. I don’t relish the prospect but I’m also at a loss to suggest remedies. …. [W]e also have an ongoing, hidden tax of things not working as promised but it being too costly in terms of time and money to get that rectified….
In some ways ObamaCare can be seen as a case study for devolution. I’m going to look at devolution in the context of what ObamaCare shows about the relation of citizen to government.
(And at this point I’m going to freely admit this won’t be the longest post in the world, or as full of linky goodness as I’d like; I’m a bit behind the eight-ball partly because of the site review, and also from other stressors.)
So, devolution of the relationship between government and citizen.** To begin with, ObamaCare often speaks of consumers, rather than citizens. From the healthcare.gov*** blog:
You’ve got questions. We’ve got answers.
We know there are lots of questions surrounding the new Health Insurance Marketplace coming in 2014. That’s why we’ve updated HealthCare.gov with – in mind.
An individual or organization that’s trained and able to help , small businesses, and their employees …. Their services are free to .
In fact, the only places on healthcare.gov where “citizen” occurs concern immigration status and privacy. Contrast Social Security, whose very card seems to be built around the concept of citizenship:
We issue three types of Social Security cards depending on an individual’s and whether or not a noncitizen is authorized by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to work in the United States.
Why does this matter? Well, let’s do a thought experiment. Let’s suppose that instead of “Senior Citizens,” we had “Senior Consumers.” How would Senior Consumers “manage” their retirements, in the course of their working lives? I’m guessing they would have gone onto Marketplaces [Exchanges], maybe assisted by Navigators, and… Well, let’s just go ahead and adapt ObamaCare’s glossary definition for “Health Insurance Marketplace”:
A resource where individuals, families, and small businesses can learn about their retirement savings options; compare retirement plans based on costs, benefits, and other important features; choose a plan; and enroll in coverage. The Marketplace also provides information on programs that help people with low to moderate income and resources pay for retirement. The Marketplace encourages competition among private retirement plans, and is accessible through websites, call centers, and in-person assistance.
And one more:
See Public Option
Got the picture? Once you start looking at ObamaCare as a paradigm, rather than a program, or a political battle — indeed, as a change in the Constitutional order — your perspective might change. (One can also imagine “Marketplaces” for public education, police protection, etc. The possibilities — and the rents — are limitless!) I’ll admit I’m taking for granted that a transition from citizen to consumer is a devolution; see Frederick Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth’s The Space Merchants on this point. Readers can hash that question out in comments!
Next, if the actual purpose of ObamaCare is not to devolve people’s expectations of government, the administration and its defenders are certainly achieving that as a side effect. When I was growing up, the space program — ludicrous now in retrospect considering climate change — was a central symbol of the power of the state and, when you think about it, a pretty amazing and successful project, in its own terms. (And I remember, a mere fifteen years into the neo-liberal dispensation, when the Hubble telescope’s distorted mirror was discovered, saying: “Eesh. Can’t we do anything right?”)
The space program was of course not flawless, and had mistakes and casualties. Nevertheless, one did not hear, as with ObamaCare today: “Oh, the launch date is really a soft launch! Just wait a few months!” Or “Why so critical? A space rocket is really complicated to engineer. Expect glitches!” Or “Relax! The payload for the rocket was a lot greater than we expected, and that’s why the rocket never left the launching pad!” Or “We did great because we got 26 million miles toward the moon, even if the moon is 47 million miles away!” And one did not hear the same lame, weak, and above all disempowering excuses from the President on down to thousands of Obots.
The ObamaCare exchange project had three years; by contrast, LBJ rolled out Medicare for all over-65s in one year. And at launch, even after a series of requirements were ruthlessly triaged (with some triaged in defiance of the law), the ObamaCare exchanges were unusable for large numbers of people in many states (including me). Why should government performance like that be acceptable? Many of those vigorously defending the ObamaCare rollout are users of Apple products, like iPhones and iPads. If Apple has launched a product like this, the twitter would be aflame, and Apple’s stock price would have vaporized.
Why are ObamaCare’s apologists not demanding of their government, as citizens, that it deliver a quality product on time, instead of rationalizing failure and shifting blame? If they were evaluating their cell phones, instead of the largest domestic initiative since LBJ, they’d be asking why the Exchanges weren’t designed by Jony Ives, instead of looking like they were thrown together by a body shop using some cheap e-commerce library. Don’t the American people deserve the best? To put this another way, if President Romney had launched RomneyCare, instead of President Obama launching RomneyCare, the Obots would be comparing the ObamaCare launch to Project Orca.
NOTE * I’m going to use the term ObamaCare, rather than ACA or PPACA since that’s the term most people use. Obama says it’s fine.
NOTE ** There could be an implicit teleology here; Graeber makes the argument somewhere that for the average Roman, being a peasant was better than being a slave, so the collapse of the Roman Empire was, for the average European, a step up.
NOTE *** The very URL http://www.healthcare.gov is Orwellian, since, as a child of six knows, health insurance, which is what the exchanges deliver, is not the same as health care, which the exchanges, like the equally parasitical insurance companies, do not deliver.