Charles M. Arlinghaus: The thing about change is that it changes
November 19. 2013 10:28PM
What happened today is the new reality and replaces everything that ever came before. We have crossed a Rubicon and will never turn back from it. Every time something dramatic or trivial happens, analysts and anchors, politicians and pundits opine on how the world has changed forever. They tell us that a revolution in the human condition occurred and life (or politics or some other endeavor) will never be the same again. They are always wrong.
This week, journalist Jonathan Chait wrote "the most common fallacy of journalism, and one of the most common fallacies of the human brain in general, is the assumption that whatever is happening at the moment will continue to happen forever." He was responding to what he called the hyperventilation over the Obamacare rollout, but the point might be made of all of politics.
Similarly, after the 2010 elections, I warned politicians in general that elections should not be taken as a sign of mass conversion. "They are not a sweeping denunciation of an old regime in favor of a new and radically different way of life." Instead, I suggested that the populace was merely looking in the direction of another crop of people and wondering what they might try instead. "You have a mandate to do something, not carte blanche to wield power as you choose."
Politicians, though, are troublesome listeners. They instead did their best to make me seem uncharacteristically prescient: "The people are watching and are quite content to throw politicians into the street again."
Before being thrown out into the streets again, some politicians assumed that everything had changed forever. It was a mistake that had been made by the people they themselves had thrown into the streets.
New Hampshire's political history is generally written by people without anything resembling historical perspective. Reporters from away routinely ask why a state that had been so rock-solidly conservative since almost forever had so reliably switched completely.
A little perspective is in order. During the period from 1962-1982, New Hampshire had 10 years of GOP governors and 10 of Democratic. The U.S. Senate seats in that same time period included 22 years of Democratic service and 18 years of Republican. Not exactly one-party rule.
We then had 14 straight years of GOP governors followed by Democratic control for what will be 16 of the last 18 years at the next election. Pendulums seem to be the order of the day.
Policymakers should take note. Current hyperventilating, to use Chait's metaphor, is not necessarily a new reality. Emotional reaction and the peak level of an angst graph are not sustained belief that can't or won't change.
The federal health law (Obamacare, or the ACA, if you prefer) has been unpopular since it was originally passed almost four years ago. But the current wave of increasing unpopularity is based less on substance and more on a technical failure. The website doesn't work, and people don't agree with websites not working. But I think it will probably get fixed.
Conservative opposition to the new federal system is not based on a belief that websites can never work and can't be fixed. That will change. The situation today will not persist indefinitely.
In contrast, recent angst about cancellation of health insurance is a better example of our concerns about the likely effects of a new federal regulatory scheme. The cancellation of insurance you had and liked and the requirement that you be charged as much as double to replace it is not a glitch that can be fixed. It is an essential part of the new regulations.
Similarly, that the regulatory exchange in New Hampshire has only one provider is expected. That its rates will be much higher than current coverage was also predicted. Critics should be telling people that the only way it exists even today is through temporary agreements with hospitals that pay not market rates, but a temporary below-cost rate that in some cases is worse than Medicaid.
A network of winners and losers that initially excluded half the hospitals in the state and even now excludes 40 percent of them was not a heartless decision by the plan manager, but a predictable outcome of the regulation they have to try and manage.
Glitches will come and go. The reality of today will not be the reality of tomorrow. But a reasoned discussion of real policy concerns can weather passing winds and fleeting trends.
Charles M. Arlinghaus is president of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, a free-market think tank in Concord. His column runs every Wednesday. You can reach him at email@example.com.