How Not to Argue

by Dave Schuler on July 21, 2009

How sad it is that logic and rhetoric aren’t taught in the schools anymore! They would have helped Ezra Klein avoid the more obvious errors in this post of his which responds to an email on a post of Greg Mankiw’s.

I would respond by saying that there’s a weird tendency among people to think that very banal comments are very important insights when they come from Greg Mankiw. And this is worse than a very banal comment: It’s disengaged with the debate.

This is an example of the ad hominem fallacy, attacking the person rather than the argument. It’s always handy for softening things up at the opening.

Mankiw’s basic argument is that health-care reform should be better than deficit-neutral. It should be deficit-improving. That is to say, it should bend the curve in the long term. And it should! But what evidence does Mankiw have that it won’t?

This is the fallacy known as “burden shifting”. It’s up to the advocate to make his case rather than the counter-advocate to disprove the advocate’s case. Dr. Mankiw is under no obligation to disprove anything. There’s plenty of evidence disproving the case for the House and Senate’s healthcare reform bills, by the way, most notably from Doug Elmendorf, head of the CBO.

Mr. Klein proceeds by making his case, giving four red herrings, which he acknowledges as such:

All of these are speculative.

If his proposals don’t address the problem identified by Mankiw (the failure of the bills under consideration to reduce spending), they’re red herrings. But they might? Thats wishful thinking. Prove they won’t! That’s burden shifting.

In dismissing possible objections to his putative benefits Klein notes:

All of these are speculative. But that’s true for any cost-saving measures that aren’t either single-payer or some radical turn toward the free market that rips away subsidies for the poor and benefits for the elderly.

This is a fallacy known as tertium non datur or false dilemma. There is at least one other alternative which is neither single-payer nor a “radical turn toward the free market” and it doesn’t rip “away subsidies for the poor and benefits for the elderly”: Wyden-Bennett. Ezra knows about Wyden-Bennett and has praised it, so his statement is also a lie.

I favor healthcare reform. I’ve even supported a system more like France’s or a single payer system. However, IMO any reform that is adopted must reduce costs and their rate of increase. For me that’s the minimum acceptable bill. The bills before the House and Senate don’t do that.

However, I also favor honest, logical discourse.

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{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

Drew July 21, 2009 at 8:57 am

This was posted at Mankiw’s site. And is relevant in light of serial posts and comments here. (I don’t know how to do the cut and paste thingy – so its all here.)

Bill Gale – Brookings:

Choosing to finance health care reform by taxing the rich is bad economic policy, bad health policy, bad budget policy and poor leadership.

It is bad economic policy because, coupled with the scheduled expiration of the Bush tax cuts, it would raise marginal tax rates by 10 percentage points for high-income households. While I object to the general hue and cry that occurs anytime anyone discusses any potential tax increase for the rich, it is nevertheless quite fair to say that a 10 percentage point increase in taxation on the return to labor and capital income is a lot and shouldn’t be the first choice. (But please spare me the small business arguments.)

It is bad health policy because we need to fix the structural problems in health care in order to cut costs and be able to expand coverage. One of the biggest structural problems is the non-taxation of employer-provided health care. Fixing that – converting it to a refundable fixed credit a la Furman and McCain – would not only raise a lot of money, it would improve incentives for health care. Taxing the rich does not address this issue at all – it may raise the same amount of revenue but it does not address the incentive problem that arises from nontaxation of employer provided health care.

It is bad budget policy because we are using up one of our options on the revenue side not to cut the deficit but to finance new spending. We need to save our powder for deficit reduction activities – use the change in tax treatment of employer sponsored health care to finance health care and use general revenue increases to finance general deficit reductions.

It is poor leadership because it furthers the myth that we can solve our fiscal problems by taxing “other” people or with gimmick taxes. It has been said many times already and will be said many times again: we are going to need broad based tax increases and spending cuts to bring the fiscal house into order and the more politicians continue to act as if we can just foist the financing on a small group (be it rich people or foreign corporations or obese people or people who drink soda, etc.) the worse are our prospects for solving the problems.

Jeff Frankel of Harvard’s Kennedy School (and a veteran of the Clinton CEA) agrees:

a clearly more efficient way of getting the necessary revenue would be to eliminate employers’ tax exemption for health care benefits, at least for upper income workers, as proposed by Furman, McCain and others. And another would be auctioning off most emission permits rather than giving most of them away, at least after the first five years or so. It is just another case of good economics getting steamrollered by politics.

(Mankiw now observing) I highlight these comments because they both come from well respected, slightly left-of-center, mainstream economists, which only goes to show how far leftward congressional healthcare reform efforts have drifted.

Dave Schuler July 21, 2009 at 9:02 am

I agree with everything in what you’ve quoted there, Drew. That’s not surprising since I’ve favored taxing compensation (rather than wages) for thirty years.

Jimbino July 21, 2009 at 9:29 am

Though I agree with the tone of the OP, I do think the “ad hominem” objection is not correct. To be “ad hominem,” a statement must be advanced in place of a logical argument. It is not “ad hominem” to caution a reader on accepting a Greg Mankiw statement just because it is Greg Mankiw who made it (caution on “appeal to authority”). In this case the Klein argument, weak as it is, properly follows.

To be “ad hominem,” the statement has to run something like:

“Imagine, this argument is advanced by Greg Mankiw, the notorious wife beater ….”

Ben July 21, 2009 at 9:34 am

It’s ironic that you dedicate a whole post to a smarmy (“How sad it is..!”)description of all of Ezra’s fallacies, then come out with this whopper:

“This is a fallacy known as tertium non datur or false dilemma. There is at least one other alternative which is neither single-payer nor a “radical turn toward the free market” and it doesn’t rip “away subsidies for the poor and benefits for the elderly”: Wyden-Bennett. Ezra knows about Wyden-Bennett and has praised it, so his statement is also a lie.”

Instead of calling you a “liar” or bad writer or idiot, I think I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and say that you misread Ezra’s post. Maybe you should read that paragraph again.

In addition to favoring honest, logical debate, you should probably also avoid starting off an argument with a sentence that makes you look like a smug, pretentious blowhard.

Jose July 21, 2009 at 9:43 am

I am not sure that Klein did the best arguments, but he certainly was precise, I think, in the fact that Mankiw is disengaged: he just does not give any solution to the problems of 1. achieving universal health insurance; 2. reducing administrative costs; 3. create more effective competition in the health industry. In sum, he does not give a solution to the fact that most of the population prefers to avoid any contact with the health industry, as if it were a blood-sucker monster, rather than a social institution.

From a different light. I think that Michael Moore’s was a crude but clear and accurate portrait of the health industry. The Democrats are trying to deal in some way with the problems shown there. Republicans, including Mankiw, are just ignoring them.

rick July 21, 2009 at 10:01 am

I think all economists have a black eye since this crisis began. It is fun to sit back and watch. At least Mankiw is saying “look before your leap”. Klein’s argument sounds like “these might work so let’s try – anything is better than nothing”. We all know how that worked out for us.

How about this – let Wall Street’s prop traders us their intellectual capital to take advantage of the AIG traders until the thing blows up. But my knowledge of how to deliver a baby gets capped because health care is a moral right. If I’m capped, why isn’t Goldman capped too? Since banking/health care are so fundamental to the economic well being of a society, shouldn’t bank comp be capped?

PD Shaw July 21, 2009 at 10:11 am

Jimbino, I follow your point, but Klein did title his entry: “The Unbearable Lightness of Greg Mankiw,” which strikes me as identifying his argument foremost as a personal attack.

Dave Schuler July 21, 2009 at 10:21 am

If Ezra is complaining that referring to Greg Mankiw is a fallacious appeal to authority that’s specious. He’s a legitimate authority. Note that that doesn’t mean he’s always right. Even real authorities are wrong sometimes. An authority isn’t an oracle.

I thought it was quite clear from context that it was an ad hominem argument.

I having nothing particularly against Ezra. However, I thought his post was flawed and weak. He should make his arguments clearly and logically. This post was getting dangerously close to boosterism.

Ryan July 21, 2009 at 10:43 am

When I read Ezra Klein’s post I thought how it sounded like it could be used in an LSAT exam, and now after reading this post, I see that I am not the only one to think it exhibits qualities common among other passages in a reading comprehension section.

David M July 21, 2009 at 11:17 am

Let’s review these fallacies:
1. Ezra’s argument (as noted above) is not an ad hominem attack because his claim is that we should evaluate Mankiw’s argument, not simply accept it as economic wisdom because of its source. The ad hominem fallacy substitutes a personal attack for this kind of analysis. We might be tempted to think Ezra commits the fallacy nonetheless because his argument is in part about Mankiw’s approach to the debate. But the fallacy occurs only when a personal attack is introduced as an irrelevant premise, not when it is part of a valid conclusion.
2. Burden shifting. Here’s Mankiw’s argument: Deficit neutrality does not go far enough. Therefore, even if the administration is right that reform will be deficit neutral, we should be wary of it. This argument relies on an unargued assumption, which Ezra flags: that reform will not reduce the deficit. Ezra then identifies reasons why the assumption is false. But for Mankiw’s argument to follow, he must prove that the assumption is right. That means that the presumption is rightly placed on him.
3. Red herrings. Perhaps you doubt that these possible cost savings will pan out. But Ezra’s principle claim is that Mankiw is being either disingenuous or careless. Even if these possibilities are mistaken, they are part of the debate and plausible enough to warrant a response. The important point is not that they are correct, but that Mankiw is silent about them.
4. False choice. Ezra covers Bennett-Wyden and other radical reforms in the subsequent sentence that you omitted. Such sweeping changes may be good policy, but they face impossibly high political barriers. By glibly tossing potshots and refusing to engage second-best proposals, Mankiw gives the appearance of wanting to simply defeat reform of a broken system — which helps no one except the Republican party. Clearly you hold Mankiw in high regard for his intellectual ability, and I do as well. But don’t you think he might better apply that intellect by genuinely contributing to the debate instead of scoring rhetorical points?

Dave Schuler July 21, 2009 at 11:26 am

That’s a very good response, David M. I think you’re giving Ezra too much credit. I tried to base my critique on the text not on Ezra’s intentions. I won’t nitpick your fine response except for the last. Let’s distinguish between Wyden-Bennett and radical reforms: Wyden-Bennett isn’t radical. At the very least in part Wyden-Bennett faces impossibly high political barriers because of those which I believe includes Ezra who prefer a different approach, a self-fulfilling prophecy. The fundamental problem is that there’s no reason whatever to believe their approach would work.

kid destroyer July 21, 2009 at 11:39 am

Came here via Mankiw’s post. I’m not going to defend Ezra’s post too much, but I too like logic so I want to try to point out what I see as mistakes in yours!

I certainly don’t think it’s an ad hominem attack; the closest he comes to this is by saying that the comment is “worse than banal, it is disengaged from the debate”; he then goes on to try to argue that point! If he’d said that comments from Mankiw were inherently dumb, that would be ad hominem. If he says that off-the-cuff statements aren’t necessarily intriguing, that doesn’t. In particular, he is saying that there is more to the debate than Mankiw was addressing.

Which leads to the burden shifting fallacy. As the commenter above me (David M) points out, what Ezra does is point out that there is more to consider than Mankiw suggests. Mankiw basically says, “Health care should be deficit improving. It is not. Therefore, it is bad/inefficient/etc.” Ezra is claiming that the second sentence should be modified from “it is not” to “it may not be, but it also might be”, which is a much weaker claim and the conclusion would certainly not follow. I don’t see this as burden shifting.

QT July 21, 2009 at 11:53 am

Jimbino,

I believe the comment still constitutes ad hominem.

Klein attempts to dismiss Mankiw’s argument as a meaningless banality rather than address the argument. He clearly states that Mankiw’s remarks are assigned more meaning than they warrant by readers. Isn’t a reader left with the impression that Mankiw is the economic equivalent of Chancy Gardner.

Klein tells us that there is little substance or insight in any of Mankiw’s remarks before he even attempts to counter the argument.

From where I sit, that’s ad hominem.

QT July 21, 2009 at 11:56 am

I believe Klein’s comments still constitutes ad hominem.

Klein attempts to dismiss Mankiw’s argument as a meaningless banality rather than address the argument. He clearly states that Mankiw’s remarks are assigned more meaning than they warrant by readers. Isn’t a reader left with the impression that Mankiw is the economic equivalent of Chancy Gardner.

Klein tells us that there is little substance or insight in any of Mankiw’s remarks before he even attempts to counter the argument.

From where I sit, that’s ad hominem.

Jacob July 21, 2009 at 12:01 pm

Against your claims:

“Ad hominem”: The overall thrust of the post is to establish that an appeal to Mankiw’s authority is not appropriate. (Actually, it’s a statement I agree with; his blog posts frequently contain poorly thought out arguments.)

“Burden shifting”: The notion of “burden of proof” here is just silly. You can’t *prove* the effects of legislation; you can only guess. Ezra provides evidence to support his guess; Mankiw doesn’t. You can’t simply assert a disputed point without giving some reason why you believe what you do.

(Side note: Referring to CBO scoring is not sufficient, because the CBO isn’t allowed to score certain types of measures which haven’t been tried in the past. As it happens, the cost-saving measures haven’t been attempted before, so the CBO can’t incorporate them into its scoring of the bill — a point which was apparently lost on Mankiw.)

“Red herrings”: How are these red herrings? The obvious presumed effect of the reforms mentioned is to reduce the cost of health care.

And you need to re-read your “false dilemma” bit, because it makes no sense. “Speculative” refers to the benefits from a proposed package, not to the existence of a package; the effects of Wyden-Bennett on cost are *speculative*.

Jason July 21, 2009 at 12:08 pm

Much of this has been said by previous commenters, but:

1. Ezra does not commit the ad hominem fallacy. He does not argue that we should reject Mankiw’s argument on the ground that there’s something wrong with Mankiw. Rather, he responds to the argument itself. Supplementing a response to an argument with the observation that people tend to overly defer to the person advancing the argument is not to argue ad hominem. Not even close.

2. Ezra does not commit a fallacy of burden shifting. He accepts the burden of arguing for his side, and does so in the very post at issue. Supplementing his argument by remarking that his opponent hasn’t offered any evidence for his opposing position is not to illicitly shift any burdens, as it is not to shift burdens at all.

3. Ezra does not commit a red-herring fallacy. He offers grounds that are relevant, not irrelevant. To offer grounds for something and then acknowledge that the grounds are speculative (though no more so than other arguments on the topic) is not to offer red herrings. By this point, you seem almost to be reaching for random terms of accusation.

4. Informed speculation is not as such wishful thinking. To say that something might happen, and then offer, or reference, widely-discussed, serious arguments as to why, on a topic where no could possibly do more than make an argument about what might happen (given that we’re talking about complicated prospects for the future), is not to engage in wishful thinking.

5. Ezra does not present a false dilemma. To say that there are problems besetting two kinds of proposals, and then go on to say that there are problems with other kinds of proposals as well, is not even to present a dilemma, false or not.

You yourself come close to arguing ad hominem, as you come close to implying that the fact that you support healthcare reform in principle gives more weight, or seriousness, or interest, or at any rate something that we should care about, to your objection to the House and Senate Bills. It doesn’t.

But I’d be more interested to know if there’s a term for the method of critique that proceeds entirely through fallacious accusations of fallacy. One would have to go back to the heady days of ‘fisking’ on right-wing blogs to find purer distillations of the method than the present post.

Kevin A July 21, 2009 at 12:33 pm

I’m shocked people are defending Ezra against the burden of proof fallacy. It’s fairly textbook if you look at what he wrote:

“That is to say, it should bend the curve in the long term. And it should! But what evidence does Mankiw have that it won’t?”

Or, I don’t have to prove that it bends the cost curve, you have to prove that it doesn’t bend the cost curve.

Classic burden of proof fallacy.

Drew July 21, 2009 at 1:01 pm

Re: ad hominem

I’m reminded of a comment by David Gilmour as they transitioned to their Dark Side period: “I simply got bored with all the silly psychological noodling…….”

Amen.

QT July 21, 2009 at 1:29 pm

While it has been argued that Mankiw’s piece does not offer solutions, Ezra’s discussion of savings measures lacks any detail whatever. Can one really mistake this for a comprehensive discussion? Mankiw is an economist while Klein’s background is political science and journalism. Neither has any expertise in the area of health care. Unlike Klein, Mankiw confines his comments to his area of expertise, economics.

What we do know about the proposed revisions to health care is that the goal is to insure an additional 47 million people . To imagine that such an undertaking is likely to be budget neutral or lower health care costs would seem to be highly optimistic. Previous government programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, the drug benefit plan & VA, seem to suggest that costs are very difficult to contain.

I agree with Klein that there are some very complex issues that need to be examined. Sniping and partisanship would seem to offer little value in a discussion of such magnitude.

kid destroyer July 21, 2009 at 1:38 pm

Kevin A – you’re right he does say that, but it only offers that interpretation out of context. After that sentence, he proceeds to offer ideas of why it would bend the cost curve.

Jess Austin July 21, 2009 at 2:10 pm

This isn’t high school debate, kids. Klein didn’t “win” because he spit out four lame hypothetical “theories” (YKUTW, IDNTIMWYTIM) about how a fifth of the economy, the joint actions of tens of millions of people in response to the demands of hundreds of millions of people, could be magically transformed overnight, and Mankiw didn’t deign to respond.

The four measures Klein proposes (that may or may not be in the bill under consideration, who knows?) are all pretty easy. It would be nice if hard problems had easy solutions. I don’t work in healthcare, but if all my problems were solved by a couple months’ pontificating by a few consultants, I’d be embarrassed. If these facile half-assed plans work, I’ll be forced to conclude that the health care industry had previously been run by slobbering inbred morons. Since that is at odds with the general consensus about doctors and hospital administrators, maybe we’d like a bit of evidence from the wonks?

If IT will lead to reduced spending on health care, why hasn’t it done so already? I know EMR hasn’t rolled out everywhere, but why hasn’t it saved money where it has? If an advisory board is the answer, why haven’t the several hundred previously-existing medical advisory boards been the answer? If the solution for input costs such as drugs and equipment is monopsony, why haven’t the ever-larger HMOs been able to reap some portion of that benefit? Further, what do you think monopsony will do to R&D budgets?

If an improved market or exchange will lead to some real pencil-sharpening (and here I don’t really argue, because it is quite possible to improve the functioning of the healthcare market), what form would that take, and what about the current system has prevented such market adjustments up until now?

When non-experts propose to overthrow and remake enormous institutions of great societal importance, serious people want to see more than conjecture in support of such proposals.

Jason July 21, 2009 at 3:31 pm

This isn’t high school debate, kids.

So your attack on people who criticize an attempt, in the name of “logic and rhetoric”, to convict Klein of “fallacies” is that the people who criticize the attempt as failed and unproductive don’t realize it’s not high-school debate?

A: “You’re an idiot! Nah nah poo poo!”
B: “That’s a weak criticism.”
A: “Hey now, this isn’t a game of dozens, kids.”

vantelimus July 21, 2009 at 4:35 pm

Klein: “That is to say, it should bend the curve in the long term. And it should! But what evidence does Mankiw have that it won’t?”

Kevin A: “Classic burden of proof fallacy.”

The burden of proof sits with the person making the original claim. It isn’t burden shifting to point out that Mankiw fails to offer any evidence for his assertions.

Would you accuse B in the argument below of burden shifting?

A: I oppose the policy because it doesn’t have characteristic X.
B: I agree the policy should have characteristic X. But you didn’t prove it doesn’t have characteristic X; you merely asserted it doesn’t. For all I know, it could have characteristic X. It isn’t my burden to disprove your unsupported assertions. You bear the burden to prove your assertions.

Jess Austin July 21, 2009 at 4:53 pm

Mankiw didn’t care to respond to Klein’s four “points”. I’m pointing out that only in tabula-rasa-land do these bizarre uninformed theories require a response.

Who is making an “original” claim, those who support a bill that would radically remake American economy and society, or those who aren’t sure about that bill and would like a few numbers first?

Ya’ll are welcome to proceed with your previously-scheduled argument on rhetorical theory, but Mankiw and the rest of us are more concerned with the impending disaster of healthcare-capacity destruction.

(btw, “attack” –> “criticize”, nice, I see what you did there)

Jason July 21, 2009 at 9:24 pm

Jess, I take your point, which is apparently that comments responding to what was said in the post shouldn’t have been responding to what was actually said in the post (because it wasn’t worth our time, perhaps?), but rather to a different aspect of the issue on the table. Since the comments should have been addressing this other matter, it makes sense for you to pretend that they were doing so, and thus to criticize them for failing to do so effectively. Also, to criticize them for being unrealistic, unlike Mankiw, whose realism consists in taking the let-the-perfect-be-the-enemy-of-the-good-ism characteristic of current soft-right punditry a self-parodying, Kabuki-like apotheosis.

Kevin A July 21, 2009 at 9:44 pm

Vantelimus, Burden of Proof has nothing to do with timing (‘Original Claim’) and everything to do with the nature of the claim.

If person ‘A’ makes the claim that Santa doesn’t exist, and person ‘B’ argues that he does exist, it is still up to person ‘B’ to prove the existence of Santa, not person ‘A’ to prove the non-existence of Santa.

Likewise, if someone makes the claim ‘There is no God,’ it is up to the person refuting him to provide evidence of a god.

Generally, the person arguing an affirmative position, like something exists, or something will happen (Health reform will bend the cost curve), provides the proof. The proof is then debated.

Kid Destroyer: The burden is still on Klein, even if he provides reasons for it. It would be up to Mankiw to then refute the proof provided.

hernan July 22, 2009 at 7:16 am

How sad it is that logic and rhetoric aren’t taught in the schools anymore! They would have helped Ezra Klein avoid the more obvious errors in this post of his which responds to an email on a post of Greg Mankiw’s.
———————————————————-
About this quote I can quote again:

“This is an example of the ad hominem fallacy, attacking the person rather than the argument. It’s always handy for softening things up at the opening.”

Just like the author wrote.

zosima July 22, 2009 at 12:39 pm

Since you seem to be dropping some debate lingo, I’m going to explain how you completely misused Burden of Proof, at least, insofar as it is technically defined, in competitive Policy Debate.

In Policy Debate, the Affirmative(Policy Proposer) is required to present an argument for why a change should be enacted and why it is better than the status quo. This is called to Burden of Proof.

But that is it. All the Burden requires is that they present an argument. It doesn’t have to be a good one. If it is a bad argument, then it should be easy for the Negative(defender of the status quo) to poke holes in the argument, but that doesn’t mean that the Negative doesn’t have to poke said holes.

The Burden of Proof establishes why the Affirmative begins the debate, but counts for little more.

At this point in the health care debate, a number of arguments supporting the cost-reduction efficacy of various health care proposals have been suggested. Some good, some bad, but all sufficient to meet the Burden of Proof.

What this means, is that Greg is contributing nothing. In a Policy Debate, this would be called a Drop, and this would mean Greg loses.

Tom July 22, 2009 at 1:43 pm

“What this means, is that Greg is contributing nothing.”

Except for that whole CBO thing he linked to:

According to CBO’s and JCT’s assessment, enacting H.R. 3200 would result in a
net increase in the federal budget deficit of $239 billion over the 2010-2019 period.
That estimate reflects a projected 10-year cost of the bill’s insurance coverage
provisions of $1,042 billion, partly offset by net spending changes that CBO
estimates would save $219 billion over the same period, and by revenue provisions
that JCT estimates would increase federal revenues by about $583 billion over those
10 years.

Random Poster July 22, 2009 at 2:53 pm

Note, Mankiw now linked to this blog post, again, outsourcing his arguments. Its unfortunate that he, like others, blog by linking rather than posting. I think what is lost is what is most interesting: his thoughts and perspective.

Given the comments here, this poster’s rebuttal is not convincing. So, Mankiw’s rebuttal to Ezra is poor. That doesn’t mean Ezra’s point is right, but it clearly doesn’t lead to a conclusion that his point is wrong.

Its almost like Mankiw wants to have a blog, but doesn’t really want to think about it or work on it (yet calls it a “resource”).

zosima July 22, 2009 at 3:55 pm

@Tom:
Fair enough. In the context of a debate. Greg contributed nothing. In the context of overall utility, Greg contributed the value of one internet link.

But the CBO analysis is the whole point. The CBO partially scored anecdotal reports of a work in progress. That analysis didn’t include anticipated cost-cutting measures. Ezra, explains that Greg’s claims are misleading and improbable, because they ignore these specific cost-cutting measures.

The Glittering Eye responds with the patently false claim(paraphrased), “Well Greg can ignore anticipated cost-cutting measures, because the Burden of Proof is on the Affirmative to meet a Bar that the Negative sets arbitrarily high”

In debate, ignoring the Affirmative’s points is a Drop. QED: Negative Loses.

As for the CBO estimate. Here’s a quote on H.R. 3200 from front page of the CBO website:
“These latest figures released on July 17 do not represent a complete cost estimate for the legislation. In particular, the estimated impact of the provisions related to health insurance coverage is based on specifications provided by the committee staff, rather than on a detailed analysis of the legislative language … and they do not reflect any modifications or amendments made after the bill was introduced.”(ellipses added)

Link Contribution = Failure

QT July 22, 2009 at 9:17 pm

Zoxima,

Doesn’t this simply confirm that not even the CBO can keep track of ever changing backroom amendments on these proposals? Glad to know that there are true believers who buy this horse sh**. The rest of us know it is more smoke & mirrors. Where is the detail? What the hell is this “plan”? What we got from President Obama was elegant, stylic rhetoric and virtually no specifics, no details, nothing new. If that works for you, good luck with that.

Random,

Mankiw does not feel the need to defend himself when his position is mischaracterized and the central question is left unanswered. He asked a legitimate question about the bottom line. Klein doesn’t like the question…so who’s problem is that? I don’t see any numbers or analysis from Klein to suggest the extent of cost savings he claims. Call me an accountant but that just doesn’t work for me.

Some of you folks seem to think that the sun shines out of the big O’s rear end. Ok, but the rest of us want to know what precisely and specifically Obama and the democrats are going to do, how much it will cost and how it will be funded.

vantelimus July 22, 2009 at 10:11 pm

To Kevin A: Sorry. The burden of proof is Mankiw’s as he made the claim. Pointing out that he did not prove his assertion is not burden shifting.

If your version of “burden of proof” were true, then I could assert “Mankiw is an intellectually dishonest ideologue”. Now, it is your (or his) burden to prove he isn’t.

Mike July 23, 2009 at 4:20 am

In a quick response to Mr. David M’s Comment,

“2. Burden shifting. Here’s Mankiw’s argument: Deficit neutrality does not go far enough. Therefore, even if the administration is right that reform will be deficit neutral, we should be wary of it. This argument relies on an unargued assumption, which Ezra flags: that reform will not reduce the deficit. Ezra then identifies reasons why the assumption is false. But for Mankiw’s argument to follow, he must prove that the assumption is right. That means that the presumption is rightly placed on him.”

I’d like to point out that relying on the CBO as an “unargued assumption” doesn’t strike me as fallacious (the CBO does indeed say something about health reform running through congress right now, and it does indeed say that it will not be deficit neutral). It seems to me, that it is reasonable to assume the CBO is correct in their findings (a rather reputable source, don’t you think?) and the burden of proof is on Ezra’s shoulders.

Drew July 23, 2009 at 4:06 pm

Dave -

Did you see Mankiw’s nod to GE?

zosima July 23, 2009 at 8:31 pm

@QT:

Eventually a bill will be put on paper and it will be voted on. Then the CBO will be able to make a reasonable attempt at scoring the bill. Right now things are changing very quickly. The strongest pressure in congress right now is from conservative democrats in the house, who want more cost cutting measures. Thus, it is quite reasonable to believe that the final bill will be considerably cheaper than what is currently being discussed.

What is unfortunate, is that people just plug their ears and dismiss a very important reform based upon rumors and speculation. What is tragic is that if we don’t do something to fix our health-care system, the federal budget will be broken and a lot of people will suffer. The Republican failure to contribute to shaping this reform is doing everyone a terrible disservice.

QT July 25, 2009 at 8:47 pm

zomsima,

Hopefully, the blue dogs can make some progress towards carving out a more sensible and cost-effective solution.

It is my impression that any suggestions from Republicans have been spurned by the president and the democrats. I can discern no effort at a bi-partisan approach on behalf of the majority elite.

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