Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Comfort Behind the Curtain

The better half will be very excited by this post, because I will concede a small, little bit of my discomfort with Obama. Things may get a little less heated at Chez Progress.

I got a link today from a similarly wonkish friend pointing me to an article in the New Republic about the policy advisors in the Obama camp. (Can I point out, however, that strangely this article comes from some time in the future?)

The piece deals mainly with Obama's economic advisors who come from the behavioralist school. As you might notice from earlier posts, I am not a fan of economic purism. Sadly, I am not at the vanguard of these arguments and have have been beaten to the punch by a lag time of about 30 years.

The idea is simple, rooted in reality, and, yes, practical: We are not a society of economic maximizers that can be plugged into academic equations of behavior, we are mercurial, selfish, selfless, illogical beings who's economic choices are less routed in what is best in an economically ideological sense, and more routed in the day to day drudgery of life.

So how does this translate? Well, Obama's camp has recognized that increasing employer 401(k) options don't necessarily help retirement savings (and I will assume, therefore, the looming Social Security disaster) because there is a percentage of workers who, for one reason or another, will not take advantage. Is that their moral failing? Maybe. Does it solve our economic problems? Not at all. The solution? Automatically enroll workers in 401(k) programs. That simple act, and the inertia of status quo, will accomplish the task.

Sadly why this idea is not a part of Obama's health care plan (but a part of Clinton's), I don't know. Obama would like to think that it's simply access and affordability keeping Americans (who can otherwise afford it) off health insurance. I can't imagine that this idealistic vision comports with behavioralism.

It's also nice to note that Obama eschews idealism-based foreign policy for a more dynamic practical approach. As the article points out, if we had embraced the reformer President Khatami and eased our economic and diplomatic pressures on Iran, we might not now be stuck with Ahmadinejad.


Blogger Meg said...

The better half is pleased. Also, she is weirded out, since unbeknownst to you she spent a good part of her morning attending a talk by one of the leading behavioral economists in the country. Were you eating her brain waves, she wonders?

Obama is, I think, infitly more practical and intellegent then the current media narrive is making out. Yes, he gives a good and lofty speech. But he also writes with great detail about actual ideas. And, he's more liberal then the excellent Ms. Clinton. I think, given the chance, he might even impress Mr. Progress, with all his critical thought(s).

He is no Jared Diamond, sir!

February 26, 2008 at 7:15 PM  

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