Nov
06
2013

#obamacare and the ongoing death rattle of the technocratic ideal.

Megan McArdle notes something:

…Obamacare’s biggest problem, as I have written, was that the architects of the law demanded an enormously ambitious software project on an impossibly hubristic deadline. Whatever slim chance this had of working was ultimately doomed — not by Republicans, but by the administration’s own paranoid and self-destructive decisions to manage a software project as if it were a top-secret campaign strategy rather than a mission-critical component of the most ambitious federal entitlement expansion in almost 50 years.

Remember that when Cutler wrote that devastating memo, Democrats still had control of both houses of Congress. The administration failed to rectify the shortcomings he identified because it did not understand that making a program happen is very different from writing out a description of it.

The administration did not refuse to issue key regulations and guidelines, or to announce the final number of states that would be building their own exchanges, because Republicans used secret mind-control rays or stole the notebooks they had used to write the draft memo. They delayed because they did not want Republicans to be able to tell the public about them before Barack Obama was safely re-elected to a second term.

I suspect that the reason that the Democrats thought that this strategy would work is because of a word that has suddenly gotten a bit of a revival recently: “technocracy.” It’s a vague word, largely because nobody has ever actually dared to fully implement a technocratic program, but I think that it can be conceded that its central conceit can be described as You can solve a particular policy and/or societal problem by using state resources to locate, enlist, and appoint relevant experts.  The democratic (small d) process is only involved in electing people with the judgement and detachment – dare I say, ‘coolness?’ – needed to know when to step back and let the experts do their thing. Elected officials are not only not needed for oversight; the default assumption is that their involvement would only make matters worse.

And clearly the system will produce the experts it needs for any given crisis; after all, the system largely functions on its own in non-critical times, so there is a selection mechanism in place.  This, I think, is what informed the President’s thinking on Obamacare: Barack Obama of course knows nothing about health policy, but there are lots of people out there who do, so all Barack Obama had to do was wave his hands, say, This must be done, and the system would handle the rest.

[pause]

I would say that this sort of magical thinking was indicative of somebody smoking crack; but apparently if Barack Obama was doing that his personal numbers would be higher.

Moe Lane

8 Comments

  • Phil Smith says:

    “I would say that this sort of magical thinking was indicative of somebody smoking crack; but apparently if Barack Obama was doing that his personal numbers would be higher.”

    That’s what I love most about you, Moe; you have a rare ability to be politely, even urbanely, vicious.

  • BigGator5 says:

    Phft. Megan McArdle is a progressive. She is partly responsible for this boondoggle, dispite her recent deconstruction of it only after it is a disaster.

  • Catseyes says:

    I doubt very much that O’bama has even read the ACA. It would be to much like work for him to do so. So the whole administration went into this (if he didn’t read it they probably didn’t either, with the possible exception of Sebelius, she had to write the regulations or at least some underling would have). So the whole flaming bunch had no clue going in what they were supposed to do. Tough to pick the right “experts” at that point. Which actually explains quite a bit about the current situation. They chose the wrong people to do the job, for the wrong reasons, because they had no real clue what they were really supposed to do.

  • sicsemperstolidissimum says:

    A) I consider myself a recovering Technocrat.
    .
    B) I define the condition I try to avoid holding positions for now as ‘attempting to solve human system problems with tools I understand well, like machines or rules, rather than the challenging tools, that are appropriate, like leadership’.
    .
    C) An example. Recreational drug use is an ill, partly or wholly in the realm of human systems. It would be technocratic to think that redesigning the guillotine is necessary and sufficient to solve the problem. If our society had the stomach for that, we would have already greatly abated drug use relative to now through things like unorganized social pressure alone.
    .
    D) If Obama had gotten this way from smoking crack alone, we would not be in this mess. People can recognize that someone worrying over bugs under their skin may not have the best thinking when considering the future.
    .
    E) To all appearances, pot smokers tend towards being rubbish at modeling possible futures, understanding alien mindsets, and strategy. They also have a reputation for laziness.
    .
    F) People are less good at telling if someone who is articulate and charismatic is innumerate, and has the judgment and analytical ability of a lime. This may be due to a relative lack of experience with impairments that severely hamper the ability to do anything useful intellectually while leaving the social functions intact.
    .
    G) TLDR; Alternatively, and Moe may wish to condemn me for this, for the case of the reader being too simple to follow my implications: Technocracy is an attempt to govern by tools that work better for other problems, and can be caused by weaknesses of maturity or learning, narrowness, or just plain being unable to understand the limits of how the tools have been successfully used. There is no need to mention crack when Obama is known to have heavily used cannaboids*, and cannaboids would fully explain any and all mental impairments he may exhibit.
    .
    *This might have been a formative time. If what learning he did then was responsible for the foundation of where he is intellectually today…

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