THE TYRANNY OF THE LARGE NUMBER! Connolly uses a very large number to hide a tiny goal: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 6, 2009
Digby remembers/We do too: Ten years ago this very week, Congress repealed the Glass-Steagall Act, by giant margins in the House and the Senate. Digby does an excellent job of remembering. To read her report, just click here.
Were not experts on this matter. But it seems to be conventional wisdom: Repeal of Glass-Steagall opened the floodgates to the financial meltdown which hit home last year.
By most accounts, repeal of Glass-Steagall was a major event. We thought wed join Digby in remembering! In our case, we thought you might want to recall what Establishment Pundits were discussing in the week when repeal occurred.
Simply put, they were discussing Naomi Wolfand earth tones, and alpha males. And, of course, oral sex. And the way Al Gore had hired a woman to teach him to be a man:
On Sunday, October 31, 1999, Time released a news report which said that Wolf had been advising Candidate Gore and the Gore campaign. On a rational basis, its hard to imagine why this utterly underwhelming news should have provoked a discussion at all. But within the broken-souled world of Establishment Washington, this underwhelming report produced an astonishing Month of Wolfone of the smuttiest, phoniest, dumbest discussions the modern, corporate-owned pundit corps has ever let loose on the world.
Those votes in the House and the Senate took place on Thursday, November 4. By that date, Establishment Pundits were in Day 4 of their smut-laden takedown of Wolfand, of course, of Candidate Gore, the real target of their witch trial. On November 5, newspapers reported Glass-Steagalls repeal (see Digby). But so what? In the Washington Post, Ann Gerhart was explaining something much more significant. She was explaining why a book reviewer had spotted beauty products in Wolfs bathroom back at the start of the decade:
It still shocks the conscience to read it today. No, Wolf didnt say, in that superb book, that she finally had gotten in touch with her inner slut. But by now, the pundit corps was bristling with claims that Wolf has very detailed programs on how a woman can get in touch with her inner slut (the disgraceful Christina Hoff Sommers, Hardball, 11/1/99) or that Wolf had urged women to release their inner sluts (the constantly-loathsome Maureen Dowd, New York Times, 11/3/99). The phrase inner slut doesnt appear in Wolfs superb book, but it got big play in the Washington Post, helping fuel a feeding frenzy which persisted in the press for a month.
The smutty trashing of Naomi Wolf was really a trashing of Gore, of course. The month-long trashing played a large role in the way George Bush reached the White House. (For the record, Bush and his campaign played no role in this month-long display. Nor does it seem that the RNC played a leading role. This was a mainstream baby.) This was one of the ugliest, dumbest campaigns the Establishment Pundit Corps ever produced. It was happening ten years ago, as Glass-Steagall was being repealed.
By the way, we know of only two major figures who spoke up in Wolfs defense: William Kristol and William Safire. Not one of your fiery liberal heroes dared open his or her trap to speak
For our five-part report on this gruesome episode, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/10/03. (Though we didnt get to it all.) And by the way: Promiscuities is a superb book, full of deeply soulful thoughts about the ways boys and girlsand men and womenstruggle to relate to each other. Wolfs account of her first high school love is pure Grade A soul gold.
Crackers! For that very reason, it had to be dragged through the mud.
In Promiscuities, Wolf discusses the way the venturesome girl will be reviled as a slut. The press corps worked to make her a prophetas Glass-Steagall was being repealed, ten years ago this week.
George Bush? He ended up in the White House. Perhaps you already heard.
THE TYRANNY OF THE LARGE NUMBER: On the front page of Wednesdays Washington Post, Ceci Connolly examined a serious health-reform topic. Her headline seemed to go where rubber meets road:
Health bills too timid on cutting costs, experts say
Connolly examined the way proposed health reform would effect the costs of health care. But uh-oh! Note the conceptual framework which was lodged right in her opening paragraphs:
Right from her opening paragraph, Connolly adopts the conceptual framework which has defined this years discussion of health care spending. In her work, health care costs will continue to rise (or grow). We are only trying to slow the rate at which they grow.
Well still see a rise in health care costs. But it wont be a runaway rise.
But then, the New York Times adopts this same framework in todays informative lead editorial about the new Republican health reform proposal:
How does the Times judge the GOP bill? The Times doesnt think the costs of health care can be reduced, or kept where they are. The Times assumes that costs will continue to rise. The editors complain that the GOP bill doesnt slow the rate at which those costs will be rising.
Were trying to slow the runway rise of costs. This implies that costs will continue to rise.
Neither Connolly, nor the editors, mentioned a striking fact: The baseline from which our health costs are rising dwarfs the baseline of health care spending found everywhere else in the world. Why is the baseline of our spending two to three times that of everyone else? This question has been disappeared this whole year. Its AWOL in these two pieces.
Were only trying to slow the growth in our massive health care costs! Before we see the ubiquity of that framework in Connollys piece, lets consider the tyranny of the great big large number.
Within her conceptual framework, Connolly offers an interesting report. She quotes a string experts; they say that proposed reform plans dont do enough about slowing the growth in our spending. At one point, she lists four basic concerns. In her fourth and final concern, we find ourselves struggling with tyranny:
In a bit of a non-sequitur, Connolly refers to Obamas ambitious hopes to constrain costs. (In our view, an ambitious person would be hoping to reduce costs, on a major scale, a scale suggested by the foreign experience.) But by her fourth point, we see how sad our pseudo-discussion really is. And we have a head-on collision with the tyranny of the large number.
Is it true? Could tort reform save $54 billion over the next decade? We dont know, but we do know this: That looks like a very large number of dollars. But alas! Viewed in a rational way, that number is really quite small. Crackers! Health care spending in your nation totals roughly $2.5 trillion per year! And it takes a thousand billions to equal even one trillion! In short, that $54 billion would represent an astoundingly small percentage of health care spending over the next decade. But then, Lori Montgomery noted this fact last month, when she reported the CBOs finding on tort reform in Connollys own Washington Post:
Candidly, we dont know where that 0.5 percent figure comes from; as a percentage of national spending on health care, it seems much too high. But plainly, were talking about very small beans here. How many readers would have known that from reading Connollys report?
Its the tyranny of the large number! Millions, billions and trillions rhyme; this makes them seem like theyre in the same ball park. Sadly, they arent. And that projected saving from tort reform falls short of a drop in our bucket.
In this way, you see how surreal the frameworks are which guide our health care pseudo-discussion.
Just for starters, this articles frameworkLets slow the growth!isnt ambitious at all. And by the time we get to Connollys fourth point, were dreaming of drops in our bucket. But go ahead! Read through Connollys report, and todays New York Times editorial. Everywhere, an odd framework prevails. Connolly, and her experts, and the New York Times editors? They all tell us this:
Crackers! Just ignore the ludicrous size of that baselinethe mammoth spending in which we engage! Instead, lets join hands with industry and sing Kumbaya! Confusing ourselves with some very small numbers, lets talk about slowing the growth! Lets do it with drops in the bucket!
Connollys concubines: Everyone has agreed on that framework. Ignore those foreign spending figures! Lets talk about slowing the growth!
Constrain costs? What the heck does that mean? Just a guess: It means slow the growth!
Why arent we trying to cut our astonishing level of spending? Crackers, please! Dont even ask! The swells have agreed not to go there!