How ‘That’s the way things ought to be’ and ‘I just can’t imagine that’ get us in trouble

I like this quote from Steve Jobs about school choice (from this Mark Perry blog post):

Jobs said that the main complaint against school choice is that schools would cater only to rich kids, and the poor kids would be “left to wallow together.” However, he said, “that’s like saying, well, all the car manufacturers are going to make BMWs and Mercedes and nobody’s going to make a $10,000 car.

A caller to a radio program I was listening to recently said he’d like to see universal health care, because he thinks the government is fairly efficient and he can see how it would be better than what we have now. (The host pointed out the Federal government is trillions in debt, so what does he mean by ‘efficient’?)

This, is a good example of ‘the way things ought to be’ bias. The caller can envision how a single payer system works, so he’s for it. Even though the radio host pointed out a compelling reason why the caller’s vision might be flawed.

Further, the caller simply can’t imagine how a freer market in health care could work, so he’s not for that.

He lacks the ability to recognize that his imagination should not be the limiter of what ‘we’ do and do not do. This is shared by many folks.

I’m fairly certain this caller could not imagine how more complex systems work, even something as mundane a food market.

He can wrap his brain around how a grocery store works.

Beyond that, I bet he never thinks about how many grocery stores and suppliers there are and the vast network of people it takes to make all those items available, everywhere.

If he did, he’d quickly realize that it’s hard to imagine how it all works, how all those people coordinate so he can enjoy high quality products, conveniently and have lots of choices, with very little disruption and how hundreds of millions of others enjoy the same luxury.

Then he might be a little more open to thinking that stuff that is beyond his imagination might actually work if he opened his mind to the idea that not everything that ‘ought to be’ needs to be within his frame of comprehension.

When I hear folks talk about a single payer health system, I think of a school cafeteria. Yes, it may not be terrible (though if it was, what choice do you have?)

That may sound better than some of the pain points we have the system now, or even had prior to Obamacare.

But, what folks like this caller don’t realize, is that they are trading away a potential system that could look a lot more like our food market, where you have grocery stores and restaurants that evolve rapidly to meet all our needs and many of our wants.

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Too easy to forget, or not even realize at all

This post on Mark Perry’s Carpe Diem blog has a host of reasons to be thankful for the time and place that we live in.

Yes, life sucks sometimes. Yes, there are problems that need solving.

But, it’s good to take stock of how good we have it, because we too often forget it.

It’s good to remember just how much progress has been made in such a short period of time and where most of that progress has come from.

We hear about the shrinking middle class, yet suburban expansion of 2,500-3,500 square feet homes with amenities fit for a king continues. When I was a kid these were homes that the really wealthy lived in.

Urban renewal of hip apartments and luxury condos are also a thing in parts of my city that were forgotten and downtrodden as little as 15 years ago.

When I was a kid cruise vacations were relatively exclusive and trips to Disney were something you could afford, maybe, once every few years. Now, every year or two we hear about a new ‘biggest cruise ship ever’ being made and a key planning consideration about visiting a Disney park is when to go so that you aren’t shoulder-to-shoulder to folks squeezing yourself down Main Street USA.

Kid Rock for Senate?

I like the first part of his campaign statement:

“I believe if you work your butt off and pay taxes…”

 

But, I thought his statement fell flat in the second part:

“…you should be able to easily understand and navigate the laws, tax codes, health care and anything else the government puts in place that affects us all.”

Sure. Sounds good. But, that’s not a rallying call. I really thought he would say something like:

“I believe if you work your butt off and pay taxes, you should be celebrated, thanked and emulated, not told that you don’t deserve it and you need to pay more in taxes.”

Somewhere along the way we seemed to stop celebrating hard workers who not only produce things that are responsible for the unmatched standard of living we enjoy, but also pay most of the taxes.

There seems to be an attitude that hard workers aren’t responsible for what they produce and instead of being grateful for the record sums of taxes they pay, it is thought they should pay more.

 

The world may be too complicated for RCT’s, there are better feedbacks

Randomized controlled trials (RCT’s) are hot.

The general public knows common forms of these these as pilots (as in a pilot episode for TV series), test marketing, experimentation or trials.

Those in public policy circles leverage RCT’s to identify whether a policy or program works. A recent Freakonomics podcast, When Helping Hurts, explores the issue and how RCTs have been used to determine whether programs, like mentor programs for disadvantaged youth, help or not.

The podcast explored long-term research at such a mentor program that, to the chagrin of the researchers, didn’t appear to help and may have even hurt. Ouch.

The moral of the story was that things that sound good may not be, but that may be difficult to figure that out.

RCTs can help.

But, even RCTs are limited. A common limitation is the definition of success is often too limited.

Charter schools are often measured on whether they improve student test scores. That assumes a lot. For example, it assumes that test scores matter. It also assumes that schools can have an influence on test scores.

But, what matters most is always the individual students and the parents. Those are things schools won’t have much impact on.

A success measure that is normally overlooked when discussion school choice is whether parents were happy with their choice. If they were, it was a success, regardless of what happened to test scores.

This would also have been difficult to pull out of an RCT, because happiness is subjective.

We don’t need RCTs to figure out if we like McDonald’s better than Starbucks. What we have there is pure, old fashioned accountability from customer to corporate HQ. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than RCTs.

We also don’t RCTs to figure out if being polite is useful. We have accountability to help us figure that out. When you aren’t polite, you get the stink eye.

I think researchers get excited about RCTs because it gives them something to do and they don’t yet realize how limited their tool really is.

 

 

 

 

But, what if I’m wrong?

On the Huffington Post, Kayla Chadwick wrote a piece titled, I don’t know how to explain to you that you should care about other people (HT: A Force For Good blog).

In it, she lists some things she is willing to do to help others, like paying an extra 17 cents for a Big Mac ‘if it means the person making it for’ her ‘can afford to feed their own family.’

In that respect, I was once like Kayla. I believed things were as straightforward as that.

But, in another respect, I wasn’t like Kayla. She also writes:

I cannot have political debates with these people. Our disagreement is not merely political, but a fundamental divide on what it means to live in a society, how to be a good person, and why any of that matters.

By ‘these people’, she means folks who disagree with her.

That’s something I’ve always enjoyed, having discussions with folks who disagree with me.

It’s a good thing, too, because instead of assuming I was right about everything and anyone who disagreed with me was wrong, I listened and learned.

It wasn’t always comfortable and easy and and agreement wasn’t reached instantaneously and sometimes never at all.

But, I come away feeling comfortable that I understand my opponent’s argument and why I disagree with it.

I think that is very important, because if I stay bunkered in a way of thinking that leads me to support things that hurt the people that I wanted to help, then what good is it?

It might make me feel good that my intentions are pure and honest. It may also garner acceptance among others who think like me.

But, what does that matter, if I’m wrong? Is feeling good about myself and being accepted more important than actually helping the people I want to help?

I don’t think so.

That’s why I feel it’s important to not only listen to those who disagree with you, but gain an understanding of why they feel the way they do. That way you can clearly say why you agree or disagree and feel more confident that you are being true to your intentions, that is, helping (instead of hurting) the folks you want to help.

Asserting those who disagree with you don’t care about others isn’t an argument. It’s a fallacy. But, it serves the same purpose as bunkering yourself into your beliefs. It makes YOU feel better. Which, in my opinion, is even more selfish than the folks she criticizes.