Dept of Human Nature

10.16.12

The Difference Between Us

This post is less directly news than most lately, but I am hopeful that this should make for some interesting back and forth between you folks, if we can get our conservative pals to engage in a real way here.

The topic is the fundamental difference between liberals and conservatives. Over the weekend, I happened to see a clip from back in March of Romney talking to Jay Leno about pre-existing conditions. Leno was pretty good; would that Obama had been this on the ball in the first debate.

Anyway, the exchange went like this:

“It seems to me like children and people with preexisting conditions should be covered,” Leno noted.

“People with preexisting conditions — as long as they’ve been insured before, they’re going to continue to have insurance,” Romney explained.

“Suppose they were never insured?” Leno asked.

“Well, if they’re 45 years old, and they show up, and they say, I want insurance, because I’ve got a heart disease, it’s like, `Hey guys, we can’t play the game like that. You’ve got to get insurance when you’re well, and if you get ill, then you’re going to be covered,’” Romney replied.

“I know guys that work in the auto industry and they’re just not covered because they work in brake dust,” Leno pressed. “And then they get to be 30, 35, and were never able to get insurance before. Now they have it. That seems like a good thing.”

“But people who have had the chance to be insured — if you’re working in an auto business for instance, the companies carry insurance, they insure all their employees — you look at the circumstances that exist,” the candidate explained. “But you don’t want everyone saying, `I’m going to sit back until I get sick and then go buy insurance.’ That doesn’t make sense. But you have to find rules that get people in that are playing by the rules.”

That is about as perfect a distillation as you can get. It’s all about views of human nature.

The liberal view of human nature is more trusting, and it’s that trust that leads to more generous policy. We think, sure, a few people are going to scam the system like that, but most people won’t. We’re not delighted about providing coverage to the few scammers, obviously, but we think that’s just the price to be paid for helping the larger number of people. The conservative view of human nature is less trusting and assumes that more people are out to get something for nothing, and therefore concludes that if some legitimate claimants have to be denied help in order to prevent the dishonest ones from cheating, then that’s just the way it goes.

This explains just about everything. Conservatives blame the people who bought homes they couldn’t afford. Liberals don’t entirely excuse that, but we tend to blame the banks that greedily roped people into these insane bubble mortgages and then bet against their own portfolios.

In the above case, I very much doubt that most people do what Romney is saying. The health care law is written so that people who developed breast cancer or what have you and got thrown off their plans can reapply for coverage and get it as a right. Romney’s “continuous coverage” provision would deny coverage to that woman.

And that he would use two minutes on Jay Leno to express this view is telling. It suggests that he really is a conservative by mindset. And yet: The law he passed in Massachusetts would cover these scammers!

I’d rather live in a more generous society where a relatively small number of cheaters can get away with stuff than in a less generous one that ends up preventing honest people from enjoying certain benefits that a civilized society should offer. Discuss.