Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Paul Krugman longs for the return of Nixon's rational policy prescriptions on health care

In his column for Sunday's New York Times, Paul Krugman finds himself longing for Richard Nixon's rational policy prescriptions, at least as those prescriptions relate to health care reform:

In fact, surveying current politics, I find myself missing Richard Nixon.

No, I haven’t lost my mind. Nixon was surely the worst person other than Dick Cheney ever to control the executive branch (ed. -Uh, Cheney was the Vice President and so did not control the executive branch; minor point).

But the Nixon era was a time in which leading figures in both parties were capable of speaking rationally about policy, and in which policy decisions weren’t as warped by corporate cash as they are now. America is a better country in many ways than it was 35 years ago, but our political system’s ability to deal with real problems has been degraded to such an extent that I sometimes wonder whether the country is still governable.

As many people have pointed out, Nixon’s proposal for health care reform looks a lot like Democratic proposals today. In fact, in some ways it was stronger. Right now, Republicans are balking at the idea of requiring that large employers offer health insurance to their workers; Nixon proposed requiring that all employers, not just large companies, offer insurance.

Nixon also embraced tighter regulation of insurers, calling on states to “approve specific plans, oversee rates, ensure adequate disclosure, require an annual audit and take other appropriate measures.” No illusions there about how the magic of the marketplace solves all problems.

Okay, I realize that Krugman is a Nobel Prize winning economist, and I am not, but I have to respectfully disagree with any column built on the proposition that Nixon was a man with rational economic policies. After all, Nixon imposed price and wage controls in the early 1970s that wrecked havoc on the economy and helped lead to the very thing he wanted to avoid - stagflation.

Moreover, Krugman makes a strawman argument when he implies that Nixon, unlike today's health care opponents, had "[n]o illusions ... about how the magic of the marketplace solves all problems." I am not aware of anyone who believes that the free market "solves all problems." Problems will always arise in any marketplace given the limitations of human knowledge. But unlike policies imposed by law, a marketplace free from government interference can self-correct once problems are identified. If only those in Washington understood this simple principle.

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