Thursday, July 5, 2012

Maps of Utopia

Take a look at this state-by-state map of where the uninsured live from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Now this is far from perfect, Pennsylvania probably has a low rate not because it is a haven of social justicy people but because demographically its the oldest state and thus gets a lot of coverage via Medicare. That said, its fair to say that our uninsured problem is heavily located in the south and California, which is in some ways surprising and in some ways not really at all. ACA attempts to fix this problem by giving generous subsidies to states that expand access for low-income people to health insurance programs like Medicaid. Just match the map up with one of those Electoral College maps you've been seeing and its pretty apparent that health reform will sending lots of money from "blue states" to "red states" and thus it makes sense from a economic standpoint for these conservative "red" states to jump on board. That of course isn't happening, lots of GOP Governors like Bobby Jindal of Louisiana have vowed stymie the dreaded "obamacare" and presumably not get the funds. So why are they doing it? Well its a complicated story that involves ideology, politics and the future career aspirations of these Governors and the need to build an image inside their political party and not anger powerful political actors.

What we are seeing in this story is how limited free market utopian economic theory can be when it has to explain the actions of real people in our real world.  The GOP governors aren't acting like rational actors in a economic system at all, even with billions on the line, rather they are acting like politicians.  British filmmaker Adam Curtis called view of  people the "lonely robot", that is people are really just isolated islands unto themselves of self-actualizing utility maximization floating around the world interacting in a highly logical and predictable manner.  This idea of people is the ideological and theoretical underpinnings to the belief that deregulating financial instruments would lead to a self balancing stable system of global finance and great prosperity at the same time among other things.  And its come to dominate how we see and discuss the world as well as being applied to things that traditionally been seen as outside of the realm of economics like education policy, art and the legal arena.  But then when tried out in the real world these theories can't even explain the actions of just a few actors like the GOP governors, let alone how say 10,000 people on Wall Street will collectively learn, plan, act and respond to each all in real time.  People really are a lot more complex tha mathematical concepts playing a theoretical game of poker and we would do well to remember that.

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