The conservative media is up in flames over Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber’s uncooperative testimony in front of a House committee yesterday. Responding to his controversial comments on the “stupidity of the American voter,” the MIT economist backpedaled on Capitol Hill, apologizing for his “glib” and “thoughtless” remarks after hours of grilling by Congressional Republicans. The irony of it all is that Gruber’s observations, whether insincere or not, make one of the strongest arguments for limited government.
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While it’s understandable why conservatives would prey upon the seemingly elitist comments of an Obamacare egghead, Gruber is absolutely right that the health care law was “written in a tortured way” to get passed without being scored as a tax. Totaling over 2,400 pages and hundreds of thousands more in regulations, no politician — much less private citizen — had the time to fully read and consider the law before deciding their support. Instead, many representatives were simply concerned with the bottom line of whether the law would cost their constituents anything.
Gruber’s candid observation is not “thoughtless” at all. In fact, there’s a whole field of economics dedicated to studying politicians’ frank political incentives: public choice theory. The Nobel prize-winning economists James M. Buchanan, who pioneered the field, once observed that citizens “vote their pocketbooks,” supporting policies and politicians who they think will make them better off. In the case of ObamaCare, the public was sold the idea that they would receive affordable health care without an increase of taxes. How could anyone say no?
Looking back years later, it’s easy to get angry at the Frankenstein concoction that Democratic politicians and advisors like Gruber concocted to sell universal health care to the American public. After all, premiums on are on the rise and the individual mandate fine that was originally sold as a “penalty” was ruled to be a tax by the Supreme Court. However, blaming one player like Gruber for pointing out the stark reality of politics just creates a scapegoat for a much larger systemic problem — big government.
Obamacare is failing not because of Jonathan Gruber, President Obama, the Democratic Party, or any other single actor. It’s failing because of an bloated federal government comprised of hundreds of thousands of actors that are ultimately looking out for their own self-interest and not the American public’s. As such, they design policies that sound good in name (e.g. the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”) but in reality are often corrupted by special interests (e.g. an individual mandate that requires purchasing insurance).
However, fixing this problem is not as easy as simply kicking the bums out. While Gruber’s government contracting days may be over, there are plenty of advisors waiting in the wings to help draft future bloated. Instead, the solution is for the American public to not be so naïve when a future crop of so-called experts tries to sell them such false promises from big government programs.
It’s not that Gruber and his ilk are liars (although some of them most certainly do from time to time). It’s that they can’t possibly predict how a 2,400-page policy will affect hundreds of millions of people and a global economy, much less design one. That’s not deception; it’s “politics without romance,” and it’s ultimately why we need less government.