Saturday, November 17, 2012

Why I love Michael Moore


I've seen four Michael Moore films: Roger and Me, The Big One, Bowling for Columbine, and Sicko. I've seen him speak twice, once when I was in the Stanford Speakers' Bureau and helped bring him to campus, the other time at Michigan. Every film of his that I've seen has made a big impression on me and changed my thinking in some important way. Every time I've seen him speak, I have come away more sympathetic to his worldview.

Roger and Me is, in my mind, the definitive window into the Rust Belt. It is absolutely heart-wrenching; I dare you to watch the famous "rabbit scene" and not feel a wave of despair. Here's what it's really about: In the 1980s, foreign competition, shifting trade patters, and new technology conspired to break the power of manufacturing unions, end the "corporate welfare state", and relegate much of America's middle class to a new lower middle class. At the same time, we made the conscious policy choice not to use wealth redistribution to compensate for those changes. To economists, these things are just mathematical models and historical facts, but in the real world, they had enormous human costs. Roger and Me makes you look those costs right in the face. That's something I believe every economist should be required to do.

The Big One is a sort of coda to Roger and Me, showing the effects of globalization and deregulation on America's labor markets (and on the real human beings who populate those labor markets).

Bowling for Columbine is about America's gun culture. I don't think it does a good job of explaining America's extraordinary levels of gun violence, most of which is involved in the drug trade, and relatively little of which is committed by the type of gun nuts depicted in the film. But I do think that Bowling for Columbine sheds light on a very dark corner of American culture - white supremacist and secessionist militias - that causes a hefty amount of human suffering in the present and could be very dangerous for our national security in the long run.

Sicko is about America's health care system, and the alternatives. Before I saw Sicko, I believed the common line that, for all its flaws, America's health care system was "the best in the world". After I saw the movie, I did not believe anything of the kind. Sicko opened my eyes to the existence of Britain's National Health Service; after watching the movie, I looked into the NHS, and found that it achieves better results than the U.S. on almost any outcome measure, for far fewer costs. Importantly, it does this using a rational incentive system - doctors are paid for improving the health of their patients, not for recommending large numbers of expensive services.

I'm not sure, but around the same time that I stopped believing that America had the best health system in the world, I noticed that other people stopped saying it (and in fact started saying the opposite!). Around the same time I started thinking that Britain's NHS is the best alternative, I noticed a lot of policy-wonkish people praising that system in the press. Around the same time I started realizing the insanity of the "fee for service" incentive system, everyone started talking about it. So I wonder if Sicko, rather than just changing my mind, actually changed the whole national conversation about health care. If so, that would make it one of the most politically influential films of all time.

So Michael Moore A) shows slices of life that reveal the real human consequences of economic policy choices, and B) raises important policy issues. And he does this while managing to be entertaining enough to hold an audience's attention. In my opinion, this makes him an important and positive figure in America today.

But it has recently come to my attention that there is quite a lot of anti-Moore sentiment out there. As with anyone who becomes a favorite media target, it is not obvious what Moore has done to deserve being "hated on" to such an extent. Here are some possible reasons not to like Michael Moore, and why I think each one is not a very strong reason.

1. "Moore advocates bad economic policies." Michael Moore talks like a fire-breathing socialist - he criticizes the profit motive, demonizes big business, and even praised Cuba's health system. And watching his movies and listening to him speak, it quickly becomes apparent that Moore doesn't have any coherent alternative to Anglo-Saxon capitalism - no, good middle-class manufacturing jobs are not going to be brought back by the generous altruism of corporate CEOs.

But I don't mind. Because Moore is a filmmaker, not an economist. Because I think it is perfectly fine to show problems without offering solutions. Simply alerting people to a problem is a valuable social service. And making people witness and understand the downsides of the tradeoffs they make - like keeping America's productivity growing at the expense of the lifestyles, self-worth, and communities of millions of workers - is a valuable social service. You don't need to replace capitalism to show the flaws in the American flavor of capitalism.

2. "Moore distorts the facts". Somewhat predictably, this criticism seems to be made mostly by people who appear to have no problem with the Alternate Reality Bubble in which the entire conservative movement has recently encased itself, in which lying in support of conservative policy goals is regarded as a virtue. So I take claims that Moore plays fast and loose with the facts with the same grain of salt that I take the "Krugman Truth Squad", the mercifully short-lived and utterly bullshittinous National Review column from ten years ago. Somewhat unsurprisingly, a quick Google search for "Michael Moore fact check" reveals that Sicko is not too shabby in the accuracy department. Reading the websites dedicated to showing that Moore is a liar, I find that many of the supposed lies are actually either A) juxtapositions that the critic thinks are misleading, but seem perfectly legitimate to me, or B) simply things the critic disagrees about, like whether America has a high murder rate. Only rarely do I see something that looks like it might be an actual intentional distortion.

(A note, however: Much of the criticism of Moore's factual accuracy seems to be made with regards to his film Fahrenheit 9/11, which I have never seen, mostly because I heard bad things about it from everyone I asked. So maybe that movie makes more fibs than the others?)

So this criticism might be true - and if true, it is of course a legitimate criticism - but I haven't seen solid evidence for it yet.

3. "Moore is a hypocrite". Here's a guy who criticizes the rich, and has gotten rich off of his successful movies. This criticism doesn't really bother me, for at least three reasons I can think of. First reason: Moore criticizes people who get rich by exploiting workers, and he may feel that the workers involved with the production and distribution of his movies are not exploited. Second reason: One person giving up his money is not going to change the system. Third reason: Even if Moore is a total raging hypocrite, who cares? Does that decrease the importance or the quality of his films?? No.

I love Michael Moore professionally. Personally, he may be Earth's douchiest douchebag. I don't know and I don't care. I don't even know the guy.

So while I allow that there might be bigger problems with Michael Moore than I have yet realized, so far I love what I've seen. Feel free to try to convince me otherwise; I am not committed to this point of view...

96 comments:

  1. Noah - Moore is best when covering the lives of ordinary Americans. The first few scenes in Sicko, which show, e.g., people sewing their own stitches because they can't afford to see a doctor, and a person deciding not to have his finger re-attached because he couldn't afford the $60,000 price tag are superb. They have huge shock value for Canadian students who really have no idea what the consequences of "no health insurance" are.

    But Moore doesn't do so well when he strays further from home. Moore's idealized view of the Canadian health care system is a bit hard to take. And have you ever noticed, in that scene in the UK doctor's home, how they really work the camera angles to make the place seem much bigger than it is?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And have you ever noticed, in that scene in the UK doctor's home, how they really work the camera angles to make the place seem much bigger than it is?

      Yeah, what a friggin' swindle...

      Delete
    2. That being said, most homes in Europe are smaller than in the United States. So it would not be shocking, especially in London, if the houses were smaller even at the same socio-economic level.

      I have had major medical issues under both the Canadian and the American medical systems. Generally, I have found the Canadian system a lot friendlier to the patient. The focus on bill paying (and talking to financial people) during emergency room care always struck me as an odd social construct.

      Delete
    3. That being said, most homes in Europe are smaller than in the United States. So it would not be shocking, especially in London, if the houses were smaller even at the same socio-economic level.

      Yep! And Frances of course, being the brilliant economist that she is, knows that the house size difference is mostly due to urban density rather than differential doctor salaries...So she is obviously intentionally distorting the facts! We can never trust anything she says ever again. Time to strike Worthwhile Canadian Initiative from the blogroll. Sorry, Nick and Stephen, you guys are tarred by association... ;-)

      Delete
    4. Not sure I would go so far as to stop reading WCI. Not only is it one of my favorite blogs (and Frances is my favorite member of the team) but I am dreadfully partisan to things originating in my home country. :-)

      Delete
    5. It were a joke, son. ;-)

      Delete
    6. I know. But English Canadians are typically born without a sense of humor. It is one of our few flaws. :-)

      Delete
    7. "Canada is a great country, much too cold for common sense, inhabited by compassionate and intelligent people with bad haircuts." Yann Martel, Life of Pi, 2002

      Delete
    8. Andrew2:28 PM

      "...typically born without a sense of humour."

      then explain this!

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Canadian_comedians

      :)

      Delete
    9. Those are the ones who leave.

      Delete
    10. Anonymous1:53 PM

      "They have huge shock value for Canadian students who really have no idea what the consequences of "no health insurance" are."

      It's a shame that this is the lesson learned. As Moore himself points out, the movie isn't about those with no health insurance, it's about how terrible it is even for those with insurance.

      And I can tell you as someone married to a Canadian that's actually what shocks her the most about the US. She knows life would be terrible without insurance. What she wasn't prepared for is how terrible it is with insurance here in the US.

      Thousands in premiums, plus co-pays, plus deductibles, plus 80-20 cost sharing, plus worrying about in-network providers, referrals, etc. Her reaction is always, "Uggh, can't I just pay $900 to the gov't once a year and not have to ever worry about this stuff like in Canada?"


      Delete
    11. $900 once a year.

      It's over $10,000 a year here, and there are still co-pays and deductibles. And it's going to profiteers, not to the elected government.

      Delete
    12. Anonymous: $900 once a year and not ever have to worry about it?

      An interesting example of how people often have no idea how much things cost. Ontario provincial government spending on health care works out to roughly $3500 per capita. The World Bank puts Cdn health care spending at a bit over $5000 per person (http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SH.XPD.PCAP/countries), but that includes both public and private spending. Someone - not necessarily your wife, but some taxpayer - is paying those costs.

      Delete
    13. Frances! Did you send me a request to review a paper for a journal?

      Delete
  2. bjssp1:38 AM

    I've also heard there are questions about his accuracy with parts of Bowling for Columbine, but it's been so long since that movie came out.

    My biggest problem with Sicko was that it veered off into something about 9/11 at one point. There was no reason to do that, I think, and even if it wasn't purposefully inflammatory, which it could very well have been, it just distracted from what was otherwise a superb documentary.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There's a scene in Bowling for Columbine when he cuts out the middle of a speech Charlton Heston gives, to make him sound like a much bigger dick than he was. It's when Charlton is giving a speech about having the NRA meeting in Denver, a bit after Columbine. The way Moore edits it, Heston says something like "The mayor asked us not to come here. Don't come? We're already here!"

      Everyone I saw the movie with read that as Heston rubbing his meeting in Colorado's face, as if he was saying "Ha ha, we can do what we want. Deal with it." The actual speech has a few paragraphs in between the first sentence and the last two, and Heston is actually saying something along the lines of "the NRA has always been a part of this community. It has members in the police force, the SWAT team, etc. Don't come? We're already here!"

      It's not a huge distortion, and it's not about statistics about gun violence or anything, but it really annoyed me when I learned that he was using these kinds of distortions to tell his stories. Maybe my standards for a documentarian are too high, but that and other minor distortions really turned me off of Moore, even though I'm a liberal.

      Delete
    2. There's a scene in Bowling for Columbine when he cuts out the middle of a speech Charlton Heston gives, to make him sound like a much bigger dick than he was.

      Yes, I read about this yesterday. While this is probably something he shouldn't have done (I'd have to go back and watch it to see how misleading it is), I think it is a very minor transgression, since A) I didn't even remember the scene, so it obviously didn't make an impression on me, and B) Charlton Heston is a dick, mis-cut speech or no mis-cut speech...

      Delete
    3. Martin12:34 PM

      Oh, come on, why would wou say such a thing? Charlton Heston WAS a dick. So now we should all speak very respectfully about him.

      Delete
    4. Anonymous6:38 PM

      Why do you think Charlton Heston was a dick?

      Did you know that he was involved in the civil rights movement and taking several stands on racial equality in films? That his film "Omega Man" is considered to have broken a color barrier in Hollywood (at his insistence).

      I also don't understand how it's okay to alter footage to smear someone just because you consider that person to be "a dick".

      Delete
    5. Charlton Heston kind of lost his mind at some point. Decent guy when younger, but nutbar when older.

      And Moore's version is pretty much accurate to Heston's attitude. I can't call it an intentional distortion. "We're already here, we live here and have been gunning you down and will keep gunning you down" is pretty much what I read from the full version.

      You don't think most people who've dealt with them actually like SWAT teams, do you, given that their main job these days is violently breaking into people's houses for non-violent drug possession?

      Delete
    6. DrJim2:50 PM

      ? I don't see a problem here. What the film says is basically the same as what Heston said. Did Heston say "We're already here and we are SO VERY SORRY that guns have caused this tragedy and ruined so many lives?" No. Nothing important was omitted.

      Delete
  3. I see what you're saying. But Capitalism: A Love Story was a mildly infuriating movie.

    There's a scene in it where George W. is giving a speech, and says that "Capitalism is the best way to organize a society". Michael Moore has an ominous voice-over and says, "Really? better than Christianity?".

    And there's some garbage in there about how unfair it is that pilots don't make any money, especially because a lot of people really want to be pilots ヽ( ´¬`)ノ

    But yeah, I see what you're saying. Though you should see Capitalism if you have the time. Going from stories of poverty to FDR's four freedom's speech is downright moving.

    Still, it's unhelpful to frame American politics as some climactic fight over the survival of Capitalism instead of a debate over the terms of the mixed economy.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I saw the linked "rabbit scene" just now for the first time, my question would be is the 'wave of despair' I was meant to feel from the admittedly inhumane slaughter? Or was it from the prohibitive regulation forced upon a person so downtrodden as to need to slaughter their own food to survive?
    It is my view that anyone who chooses to eat meat should be able to carry out the slaughter of an animal. Should they object to the idea of animal slaughter, they should adopt a vegetarian diet.
    Michael Moore generally produces pretty droll material in my view, it is disingenuous to imply he doesn't selectively edit to drive a viewpoint, but were I a documentary maker, I suspect I would struggle to behave better.
    In any case Noah, I do enjoy your blog - Tony.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nate O9:52 AM

      Imagine for a moment a documentary that didn't "selectively edit to drive a viewpoint." It would probably be 37 hours long and completely incoherent. I don't think it's fair to hold stuff like "editing" and "having a viewpoint" against a filmmaker.

      Delete
    2. Thanks, Tony!

      is the 'wave of despair' I was meant to feel from the admittedly inhumane slaughter? Or was it from the prohibitive regulation forced upon a person so downtrodden as to need to slaughter their own food to survive?

      Well, for me, it was neither of those...it was "How can an American live this medieval life?"

      Delete
    3. Noah, I don't know you, but your comment suggests that you don't know your country very well. If you venture out of the wealthy/educated bubble, you will find that a lot of Americans "live this medieval life." It isn't because of capitalist oppression - many people choose redneck, hillbilly lives and scoff at the sterile, pretentious ways of the elite.

      Preferences differ, and in a free country people can choose their own lifestyles.

      Delete
    4. That's why Moore is great, because he brings the reality of America home to those of us who, like Noah per-sicko, aren't aware that everything in the US isn't all for the best in the best of all possible worlds. Moore does this pretty well. I too love roger and me best; that movie is amazing...

      Delete
    5. • many people choose redneck, hillbilly lives and scoff at the sterile, pretentious ways of the elite.•

      This is an interesting statement. How many 'downwardly mobile by choice' people do you know? The ones I know more closely approximate a lefty hippy profile than an orthodontally-challenged redneck one.

      On the other hand, if you're born into poverty and ignorance there are plenty of commercial interests (Rush Limbaugh to name one) eager to stoke your class envy and thus create a false impression of satisfaction with one's lowly position in our excessively--IMO--unequal society.

      Delete
    6. Mattski 3:04: 'Downwardly mobile by choice' isn't quite the right term, because it implies that it is all about money. Rednecks with money also reject the culture of NPR, college, tofu and (what they see as) PC BS. Do business in a small, non college town sometime and you will see what I mean.

      It isn't about ignorance, or a "false impression of satisfaction" either. It is about culture. NPR listeners think their culture is superior, just as their great-grandfathers thought European culture was superior to Native American culture. The masses disagree, and choose Rush over NPR because they like him better.



      Delete
    7. David, I think the statement,

      It isn't about ignorance.

      is in direct conflict with the balance of your remarks. Listening to Limbaugh, whether cause, effect or both, is correlated with ignorance. That's not terribly much in doubt.

      Delete
    8. It is dangerous to be so self-satisfied and confident that your ideological opponents are idiots. It is great fun to look down on Rush Limbaugh, but his message is remarkably coherent for a person who must talk for 3 hours each day. I honestly believe that if you can't listen to Limbaugh for an hour and understand why he appeals to a lot of business people, you do not understand America at all.

      Delete
    9. BrettM3:35 AM

      "The masses disagree"- Me thinks you need to reconsider consider scale, most Americans (like most people on Earth as of May) live in cities or at least in very densely populated areas. If you want that many people living in that much space you have to have very high hygiene standards. Therefore unless you want to significantly cut down on the number of people (never ends well) then you have to embrace 'wealthy/educated bubble'.

      Yes there might be a small minority of Americans who like to kill their own meat but it wouldn't work for the majority and I doubt most people would choose this life. For one thing humanly killing and butchering an animal is a great skill which in an increasingly skill demanding world seems unnecessary (And for the record I do hunt and fish because I agree that if you are prepared to eat meat you should know where it comes from, but the idea of having to do that for all the meat I eat I think is deeply troubling).

      IMHO, Limbaugh is either an idiot or evil and I'd rather think the former. Perhaps it's just because I'm English but after attempting to listen to him for an hour I fail to see how any person who sympathises with his position could possibly have the necessary understanding of the world to run a business. Clearly I do not understand America.

      Delete
    10. Believe it or not, the hygiene standards of some Rush listeners are high enough that they do not pose a public health threat to urban areas.

      If you can't stomach Rush, try reading Free to Choose by Milton Friedman. You will get 75% of Rush's views from a certified non-idiot. To understand America, however, you will need to know the other 25%.

      Of course, to understand America you also need to listen to Tavis Smiley and Santita Jackson. I have been a guest on Santita's show, but I realize that I still have a lot to learn. Corny as it sounds, there is value in understanding and respecting opposing views.

      Delete
    11. BrettM11:17 AM

      "the hygiene standards of some Rush listeners are high enough that they do not pose a public health threat to urban areas"

      Some but not all. Even if it was all and we could extrapolate to the entire population with the best will in the world providing the necessary infrastructure for the entire population of London or New York to safely slaughter their own animals would be pretty much impossible.

      "If you can't stomach Rush, try reading Free to Choose by Milton Friedman. You will get 75% of Rush's views from a certified non-idiot. "

      I feel that there are many South Americans who may disagree with this inference. And while I respect him as an academic who did some very interesting research and certainly furthered human knowledge I don't believe he fully understood the difference between an idealised model and the real world. Moreover I don't believe the parallel is even justified, there is certainly some common ground but Rush is taking the most extreme reading of Freidman possible.

      "Corny as it sounds, there is value in understanding and respecting opposing views."

      Not Corny, trite and disingenuous. But I'm not sure I understand the point. If it were my ‘view’ that "we should all eat more lemons and I suggested this would be good for the economy and that the world would be fine if only we ate more lemons" would you respect me if all the research I offered was demonstrably false? Or better yet if I offered no evidence to support the claim?

      I don't respect ‘views’ which are not well support by a solid body of evidence. I am prone to change my mind when evidence becomes available (Climate change being the most recent example). But I most strongly repudiate the implication that I am being arrogant because I believe Rush Limbaugh is an idiot- I assume everyone is an idiot until they prove otherwise and he has very much yet to do so.


      Delete
    12. Sorry, I thought we were joking about hygiene standards. Conservative urbanites go to the grocery store like everyone else - they don't field dress squirrels in Central Park. My point was that rednecks make legitimate lifestyle choices, and reject values that many elite Americans hold. To me, the rabbit woman in Roger and Me illustrates these differences. (although I can't quite figure out what Moore had in mind, and I don't mean that as criticism of Moore) In a free society, there should be room for this kind of diversity.

      "I feel that there are many South Americans who may disagree with this inference."

      I was in Chile this summer, and free market ideas have done a lot of good there. Of course, political turmoil has done a lot of harm. It is complicated.

      "Rush is taking the most extreme reading of Friedman possible."

      Not at all. His son David takes a much more extreme reading. See his book, The Machinery of Freedom, or my book, Welcome to Free America. Rush advocates small government, which is not an extreme position, and is certainly justified by a great deal of evidence. (as are many opposing views)

      "I most strongly repudiate the implication that I am being arrogant"

      Sorry, but I think putting the word "views" in quotes when describing people with different political ideas is arrogant.

      My guess is that Rush would be satisfied with a flat 28% tax rate, a bit more autonomy for state governments on social issues, and less regulation of business. Whether right or wrong, I think these are views worth taking seriously. Dismissing them as idiotic is both an intellectual and a tactical mistake.

      Delete
    13. BrettM3:16 PM

      Hmmm well you continued to insist that people outside of 'the wealthy/educated bubble' would be quite happy to live the medieval lifestyle etc.

      Like I said more than happy to change my mind if the balance of evidence tilts the other way but at the moment the evidence for the 'Rush' (for shorthand) position I find to be lacking. And therefore I will continue to consider him an idiot until proved wrong.

      There's nothing wrong with small government, the issue is what the word small means. Lets leave politics aside completely and so we're just talking 'views'. I think pretty much everyone would agree that the government should only ever provide what the private sectors cannot provide efficiently and should only intervene with regulation when the value of the social gain out weighs the value of the regulation. In other words when government intervention makes society better off. The disagreement is then over what the private sector can provide and on the value of social good.

      To give a couple of examples:
      Government should provide a stable legal framework and a judicial system to enforce it. If we can't enforce contracts then it all goes pear shaped. I don't believe this is contentious.

      I think we'd all agree the military should be provided by the government (age old economic proof that we can't efficiently form mutually beneficial militia). But then there is the bearing arms issue... as a European the idea that on top of having to know several languages, calculus, C++, the internet, cooking a balanced diet, programming tivo, driving, etc I'd also have to learn how to use a gun safely... really?

      getting more contentious..
      Eduction: Massive value of public good (pointing to SKK/Singapore here) but somehow there are people on the right who seem to think state funded education isn't a brilliant idea.

      My understanding is that conservatives (Rush included) would be against universal health care. Where as the balance of literature in economics and public health would say that between information asymmetries, acuteness of demand and disproportions of scale the private sector is going to be hideously inefficient at providing health care (if it provides it at all). There is almost no disagreement in the evidence here...

      You'll have to be more specific on business regulation because my experience in debating this suggests that often the two sides end up talking about completely different things. Generally speaking companies should not: Recklessly endanger their employees/public or discriminate against people for reasons that do not effect their ability to do their job. The rests is window dressing.

      Considering a view idiotic does not mean not taking it seriously. Its very serious when the worlds largest economy comes close to disaster by implementing policies contrary to the vast weight of evidence.

      Delete
    14. Rush would agree with you on government provision of a stable legal framework, defense, and education. He would argue for funding education at the state and local, not federal level, but I don't think that ought to be a huge issue. Libertarians would object, but Rush is not a libertarian.

      On guns, few support mandatory ownership, so you won't have to substitute gun safety courses for C++. Plus, if your neighbors have guns, they will discourage burglars - a positive externality.

      On healthcare, there are also information asymmetries in car and home repair, but private insurance works well. The problem is cost due to over-regulation. I had recently had a colonoscopy that cost $3,000. I priced the equipment and estimated that they could be profitably offered for around $200. Mine was done by a PhD-MD! An experienced nurse paid a fraction of his salary could do them just as well. Medical care in the U.S. is a racket designed to enrich doctors and the rest of the industry. A free market system hasn't been tried.

      Regulation raises other costs as well. In my business, housing, new building codes raise costs dramatically. It is great for me, because it limits competition. Less construction means the value of my properties goes up. But it means the poor spend most of their income on rent. Regulations are pushed by industry to limit competition, with a thin veneer of lefties in front to hide what is going on.

      The liberal elite is used by the business elite to gouge the poor. Populist conservatives understand that there is something wrong with the system. Their understanding of the system may be incomplete, but it is way beyond that of the liberals.

      Delete
    15. David, response to you is down at bottom of comments. Sorry about that.

      Delete
    16. Actually, as a liberal, I support mandatory gun safety and training courses.

      If my neighbors have guns and I don't, and they're *untrained*, they're likely to be a danger to me -- a very substantial negative externality.

      There are regulations which raise costs a lot for no good reason, such as zoning regulations. The interesting thing is that most Republican elected officials consistently support those regulations!

      The regulations the Republicans oppose are the health-and-safety regulations, the environmental regulations, the anti-pollution regulations, the anti-discrimination regulations -- the ones which actually help people. Look at Republican elected behavior, and it's very consistent: if a regulation helps big business buddies, they support it, if hurts big business CEO buddies, they oppose it.

      So, in fact, the reality I've seen is: Removal of regulations is pushed by industry to allow them to make more money by poisoning or abusing people, with a thin veneer of RIGHTIES in front to hide what's going on. Meanwhile, other regulations are pushed by industry to limit competition, with a thin veneer of righties and "centrists" in front to hide what's going on.

      The actual lefties are against big-biz protectionism (it's really part of the definition of 'lefty' now). The Righties are always on the side of big businesss -- always always always. Ideological consistency goes out the window if big business is implicated.

      Medical care in the US? Yes, it's a racket. It's nothing to do with regulation, nothing at all, unless you count the regulation prohibiting people without an MD from practicing medicine (and I actually think that one should be repealed -- but please note that that regulation, like most 'industry protection' regulations, was put in by RIGHT WINGERS back in a previous century).

      Medical pricing has been driven by insurance companies, medical "conglomerates", medical schools, and various other "free market" actors. But of course as Kenneth Arrow showed, medical care simply doesn't work as a market, due to lack-of-informatio problems. The solution has been known for a long time: something like Britain's NHS is best, with Canada's single-payer system being second best. Empirical evidence shows that they work.

      Delete
    17. "To me, the rabbit woman in Roger and Me illustrates these differences. (although I can't quite figure out what Moore had in mind, and I don't mean that as criticism of Moore)"

      His point was that she would have preferred to be living at a higher standard of living than dressing rabbits for food, but didn't have any other options. You seriously missed that point?

      Delete
    18. "It is great fun to look down on Rush Limbaugh, but his message is remarkably coherent for a person who must talk for 3 hours each day."

      No, it's not.

      "I honestly believe that if you can't listen to Limbaugh for an hour and understand why he appeals to a lot of business people, you do not understand America at all."

      Oh, I understand it.

      He appeals to their preexisting, unjustifiable prejudices, and tells businessman that it's OK if they look down on their workers and underpay them. That is clear.

      Now, of course that's popular. Reinforcing people's prejudices and telling mean people that it's OK to be mean -- always popular. Evil, but always popular.

      Delete
    19. BrettM3:55 AM

      Unless you can point me to some specific empirical work that proves otherwise my understanding was the gun ownership was positively not negatively correlated with crime. And on the neighbour point, them owning a gun simply increases the chances of me getting shot.

      On healthcare- again you're going to have to refer me to some literature (I will do the same but I'm in a rush right now). the UK there is no way an MD PhD would do that procedure (well apart from extreme circumstances) it would always be a nurse- that's not regulation that’s you hospital skrewing over your insurance company- The free market at work! And are you seriously suggesting the info gap between customer and seller is the same in medicine and car sales? Or the need so acute? Or the costs so high?

      I am fully against any and all regulations where the sole purpose is to carve out a niche for a particular industry. But it's my experience that those who purport to be 'free market' don't oppose those regulations! They simply oppose the regulation that reduce the ability of firms to make money- generally be exploiting people or natural recources.

      "The liberal elite is used by the business elite to gouge the poor. Populist conservatives understand that there is something wrong with the system. Their understanding of the system may be incomplete, but it is way beyond that of the liberals. "

      I think you'll find most liberals believe there is a great deal wrong with the system. Specifically I have never yet seen a conservative who seriously wants to free the poor from the yolk of the elite. And nothing you've said so far has suggested otherwise.

      Delete
    20. Don't see a way on my phone to reply individually, and only have a few minutes.

      All regulations benefit the elite, including environmental regs. They raise fixed costs, driving out rivals. Both parties support this wholeheartedly, although they represent different factions of the elite.

      Yes, I seriously suggest that info asymetries are just as important in home and car repair as in healthcare.

      Rabbit woman was a farmer. Is that such a terrible life? Does every farmer want out?

      Delete
    21. Nathanael1:38 AM

      Environmental regulations benefit the elite, but they *also* benefit everyone else, because y'know, toxic water SUCKS.

      Whereas there is one sort of regulation which benefits *only* the elite: the sort which Brett M is against, but which Republicans are gung-ho in favor of.

      "I am fully against any and all regulations where the sole purpose is to carve out a niche for a particular industry. But it's my experience that those who purport to be 'free market' don't oppose those regulations! "

      The woman raising rabbits would have preferred a higher standard of living. There's nothing inherently wrong with farming, but this was *subsistence level* farming, and most subsistence farmers (not all but most) DO want out.

      Delete
  5. I believe I heard Michael Moore point out that more people are upset about the slaughter of the rabbit than a man who is shown being shot or something in the same movie. But that's the magic of movie-making, right? Because of the pace and candence of the piece around the rabbit scene it is more easily remembered. From my recollection, the man being shot was shown from a distance, etc.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Lulz4l1f37:14 AM

    Noah,

    I believe I have seen every film Moore has put out, and some were more entertaining than others, and some had more implied fallacies than others.

    Fahrenheit 911, for example, had some stuff in there about George W. Bush being friends with the bin Laden family and the Saudi ambassador: while these things were true, the implication was a sort of thinly veiled "guilt by association" smear that appeals to the same prejudices Michelle Bachman's lame "Muslim Brotherhood" conspiracy theory targets.

    On the upside, F-911 said something that needed to be said at the time: Iraq had nothing to do with al Queda or 9/11/2001, and the President and his Administration were lying to the American public and using fear to sell a war on Iraq which they had already decided on fighting before the attacks on 9/11 and despite the fact that Iraq had nothing to do with those attacks, and that war was not going well and costs were high in terms of human life. The film also focused on the propaganda campaign ("greeted as liberators", "Mission Accomplished") and Bush's own detachment from the consequences of his decisions ("Now, watch this swing").

    I happened to see F-911 in a theater in Upstate NY when it came out, and the place was packed, and people actually stood up and gave the film a standing ovation when it was over despite that crappy "guilt by association" moments of the film which, judging by the audience reaction, didn't really appeal to that same audience.

    You have to go back to 2003 to remember why a film like F-911 might have needed to be made to understand the audience reaction to the film: "You're either with us or against us", "Salmon Pak", "Huge underground WMD factories", "We can't wait for the smoking gun to arrive in the form of a Mushroom Cloud", "Freedom Fries", "You're siding with the terrorists".

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This. People forget that at the time many people believed Iraq had something to do with 9/11 in the same way Noah believed America had the best health care system.

      Delete
    2. The House of Saud members in the US--Osama's family, who had information about him--were allowed to fly out of the country, without being questioned, on 13 September 2001.

      The rest of us didn't get flights until the 14th, if then.

      Tell us again how that is "guilt by association" instead of favoritism.

      (Note also that F-911 indicts Democratic Senators--Jon Corzine was in the center of the shot--as they laugh off people noting that GWB's election, er, was not justified by the voting of the people.)

      Delete
    3. "Fahrenheit 911, for example, had some stuff in there about George W. Bush being friends with the bin Laden family and the Saudi ambassador: while these things were true, the implication was a sort of thinly veiled "guilt by association" smear that appeals to the same prejudices Michelle Bachman's lame "Muslim Brotherhood" conspiracy theory targets."

      The points I took from that were twofold:
      (1) Since the Saudi government are reprehensible sexist monarchist elitist pigs, being friends with them is a sign of being a bad person;
      (2) Since GWB was friends with the bin Laden family, his talk about "crusades" and his rabble-rousing statements about Islam were obviously lies for public consumption, not things he believed.

      Delete
  7. brice9:06 AM

    It was largely Moore's movie Sicko that provided the impetus for my family to make the move to Canada. After seeing that what others go through was not much different than our own absolutely horrific experience with US health insurers, it became clear as day to me that it's a fatal and probably insurmountable flaw to have profit-motivated gatekeepers who possess the completely vacant morality of Jamie Dimon pulling money from health care into their own pockets. Health care is expensive and difficult enough. Let the Wall St. leeches pull money out of it, and there's no prayer of providing good care for all.

    And our experience with the Canadian health care system has been truly fantastic. We found a fantastic doctor in a week, and had our first appointments a week after that. Even with top-notch insurance in the US, I couldn't get in to see my doctor for at least 6 months, usually more like 9ish.

    And of course it's great Obama won, because hopefully health care reform will march onward toward a system where the incentives are right all around. But the fact that Romney, even after telling us all he thinks 47% of us are nothing but useless wastes of carbon, STILL got 49% of the vote, should give the US serious pause about the destructive power of the US electorate.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It IS very discouraging to see how easily manipulated, and how ignorant a huge segment of "red state" America is.

      I've heard anecdotally Moore can be abusive to the people he works with, an accusation which seems credible to me. If true it's unfortunate, but I'm with Noah. Thank goodness for MM.

      Delete
    2. Anonymous10:59 AM

      Brice, curious about your experience. I live in Phoenix metro area, have health insurance through my former (recently retired) State of AZ plan, and can get in to see my family doctor generally on a same day or next day basis. My experience with specialists is similar. Why such different experiences for us?

      Delete
    3. Brice4:41 PM

      I’m not sure what would account for the difference. I do know my doctor was very, very busy, seeing some huge number of patients each day. He told me once he'd had two full-time people and one part-timer who he'd had to hire simply to fight back against the insurance companies’ essentially reflexive rejection of claims. So possibly that had something to do with the patient volume. I do know that if I wanted a chance of getting my physical in August, I had to call by February. I assume that if I’d had an emergency, he’d have found a way get me in somewhere.

      He was a very good doctor, in that he really did care and knew his stuff. However, the rush caused by the system made for a rather bizarre appointment experience. Essentially the nurse would take you in the examining room, do the BP and all that stuff, then maybe 15 minutes later the doc himself would whisk in with a laptop in hand, say "hello" with a smile, and proceed to not look at you the entire rest of the time because as you spoke he was focused on getting all the info into the laptop. Now I don't need to be coddled and didn't mind the laptop butting in on the personal connection, but I know a lot of people found that extremely off-putting. But I don't think he really had any choice because of what the system had forced upon him.

      During my first appointment with my Canadian doctor I mentioned this and another odd behavior he had: giving me lots of options and refusing to commit. My brother had this exact frustration with his doctor too. That is, we'd mention a problem, in my case, once it was tendonitis from sports, and he'd say, "well you have 4 options. 1) Take Aleve and hope the swelling goes down over time. 2) Get a cortisone shot. 3) Get physical therapy. And finally 4) surgery. Which would you like to do?" My response was, "well, geez, Doc, the only person in this room who's had even an hour of medical training is you - what do YOU think I should do?" And he'd give plusses and minuses of each, but was very hard to pin down on a firm recommendation. It was like going to the mechanic with a noise under the hood and having the guy say, “well do you want me to change the belts, look at the pulleys, check for valve slap, or put in a new head gasket?”

      When I mentioned this to my Canadian doctor, he said what’s going on there is that US doctors are so worried about being sued that they need to be able to point back to you and say you requested the treatment, but that in Canada the standard is "what would a reasonable doctor do?", so that doctors feel much freer to speak their minds and make firm recommendations. Now I'm as thrilled as the next person that I can find medical information online these days, but I really don't want to be counting on myself to come up with diagnoses and treatments, thank you very much. That’s why I went to the doctor...right??

      Someone recently asked me what was the biggest single difference between the experience of living in Canada, and that of the States - a great question. My answer was that in Canada, that while things aren’t perfect by a long shot, and people vehemently disagree on the same things as they do in the States, the debate needs to be civil, and be based on real, verifiable facts. As we know from any number of recent events, be it the anti-science backlash against climate change or Nate Silver, or the recent macro battles (how many times does Krugman have to turn out to be right before it will actually make a difference to those on the other side?) to the modus operandi of Romney of simply making up whatever he thinks an audience wants to hear: facts seem to have become a faith-based concept in the US. There doesn’t seem to be any need for anything to be demonstrably true before people will opine it.

      This to me is a seriously big deal. For I don’t see any way real problems can be solved by faith-based facts and principles.




      Delete
  8. "Second reason: One person giving up his money is not going to change the system"
    -- this is an awful argument. I agree that the hypocrite argument is bogus, but this is reaching for the heavens. (akin to, "don't vote, it doesn't matter"; or "if I don't take this unethical job, someone else will anyway").

    "I don't think it does a good job of explaining America's extraordinary levels of gun violence"
    --- I don't think he does a good job 'explaining' any of the more pressing political or socioeconomic issues. He is good at telling stories and that was enough to make me love some of his movies (Bowling for Columbine was excellent). But "Capitalism: A Love Story" and "F 9/11" were absolute garbage.

    His films have a good 'shock-value'. If his film Sicko REALLY DID cause all that change in the USA that's amazing. But as a Canadian, I found the movie very uninspiring. I already knew the US' Medicare was crap lol!

    Moore rarely provides new insight on topics. He takes a narrative and sensationalizes it with a bunch of emotional testimonies. He rarely addresses issues that are often brought up to challenge his arguments, so those who disagree with the message will continue to do so. In effect, he is seemingly, more often than not, preaching to the choir. He gives more fuel for those who disagree with him to continue to do so, and solidifies those who agree with him for reasons that remain just as contested as they were before.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I should note, I haven't seen 'Roger and Me' or 'The Big One'. So maybe if we were working with the same sample, we would be more on the same page.

      Delete
    2. The democratic process relies on popularizers of ideas in order to produce a well-informed electorate. There's no reason they need to be "discoverers" of those ideas. And surely you don't want the government taking on the job of popularizer.

      Delete
    3. Moore rarely provides new insight on topics.

      If you mean theoretical or practical insights, then I agree. He's no economist or professor. But insight into the human ramifications of our policy choices? He provides that. I think that classifies as "insight".

      Delete
    4. Brice6:53 PM

      Moore rarely provides new insight on topics.

      Right, in the same way Schindler's List doesn't provide any "insight" into World War 2.

      Delete
  9. Anonymous9:48 AM

    F-911 was a good film, most of the criticism it got was because it wasn't what people (particularly in the US) wanted to hear.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I haven't seen any of Moore's films. I have seen him on TV many times, most recently last Friday on Maher's show.

    I think the reason Moore draws so much hate is simply that he is an outspoken Librul with a large audience. So much more so if he has actually been effective.

    The hate comes from the ignorance bubble. These same people hate Clinton and Obama, who are both actually quite conservative, and will hate any prominent person who they believe has a progressive world view.

    A lot of it has to do with running away from inconvenient truths. It's just the way things are on the far, far right.

    Alas,
    JzB

    ReplyDelete
  11. I liked Moore as well....until I saw Fahrenheit 9/11. It really is that bad. Then he started comparing the Taliban to the Minutemen (not the seminal punk bad, though that would be as bad). Now I lump him in with Ann Coulter and others whose face is enough to get me to change the channel.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Sorry, not the Taliban but Iraqui insurgents.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Anonymous1:22 PM

    Noah:

    Did you go native while at Michigan working on your PhD?!? Hatin' on Ohio's colleges and universities, liking Michael Moore films, emphasizing it is THE U of M...;)

    If you like Labatt Blue beer and drive a Ford, I will know that the conversion was complete! ;)

    Frank

    ReplyDelete
  14. Yeah, Rust Belt. It's transformative to really know it. You know who else really knows it? Joseph Stiglitz. He is from the bottom of the trash can town of Gary, Indiana. And he is a real mensch, a humanist, a warrior for prosperity and justice and opportunity.

    I think economists and policy makers generally should have their noses rubbed in the grimy forgotten corners of American society. The truth will set you free - to be a decent person.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Noah - do you appreciate Fox News for its "fair and balanced" reporting? Michael Moore skews to the other side. I am a huge documentary fan, but Moore's documentary on Columbine was as biased as any Fox News report.

    Did Moore's "Sicko" change the conversation? Or did it reflect a national dialogue about health care? As one who has been self-insured for much of my adulthood, I did not need "Sicko" to clue me into the flaws of the American system. Please note that "Sicko" came out in 2007, when health care was already an issue in the presidential election. So not sure if Moore drove the conversation or reflected it.

    I have a problem with Moore's "distortion" effect. Does that make me a conservative? Not at all. It makes me someone who yearns for a true fair and balanced look at the serious issues of our time.

    "I don't think it does a good job of explaining America's extraordinary levels of gun violence, most of which is involved in the drug trade, and relatively little of which is committed by the type of gun nuts depicted in the film."

    This is exactly what is wrong with Michael Moore's work - he creates a visually interesting narrative that leaves out huge, significant parts of the story (just as Fox News does.) But hey, feel free to love it...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This analysis is itself without balance.

      If you were to measure the amount of money that flows into propping up : conservative ideology as an approach to solving difficult social policy or conventional thinking (heavily biased towards the ideas of economic elites), and then compare that to the money that supports and propagates ideas on the left of the spectrum, you would find a simply vast imbalance.

      Michael Moore is so often attacked because he is without the cover of institution, vast sums, conservative think tanks, or conventional wisdom (group think).

      Delete
  16. michael moore is (rightly) attacked because he does not care to fact check.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Why I love this post...the picture of Michael Moore is hilarious

    ReplyDelete
  18. "Because I think it is perfectly fine to show problems without offering solutions."

    It's beyond just fine. It's required if we're ever going to move on to the next phase in human discovery.

    ReplyDelete
  19. My problem with Moore is a more broad ethical objection to the genre of "docu-tainment".

    We all know documentarians have to "tell a story" to the audience and mix facts with emotionally compelling narrative, but there is something for me at least - in the way that Michael Moore blends the two that is just taking it to the level of exploitation and pamphleteering.

    I agree with another comment ITT, that his best work is where he shows us what is happening in the lives of regular people. These moments speak for themselves.

    I don't need Michael Moore to give me a line of thinking, or to distort realities in other countries, I think its good enough for him to turn the camera close to home, and let the viewer get a "sense of problem".

    Also, as you know, I've never been a fan of the "the guys on the "other side" are just as bad if not worse, so it's OK" line of reasoning.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hmm...if conservatives could make me a movie "pamphlet" that made me sympathize with $300k/yr earners who get taxed too much, I'd sing their praises too...

      Delete
    2. "Hmm...if conservatives could make me a movie "pamphlet" that made me sympathize with $300k/yr earners who get taxed too much, I'd sing their praises too..."

      Start sympathizing/singing.

      Here's the line before the bottom line...

      "I'm a millionaire, I'm a multi-millionaire. I'm filthy rich. You know why I'm a multi-millionaire? 'Cause multi-millions like what I do. That's pretty good, isn't it?" - Michael Moore

      Isn't there a word for what he's describing? What was it again? Oh wait..I remember now...capitalism!

      Markets give us the freedom to vote with our dollars. Are markets perfect? Well...here you are singing the praises...but more importantly...giving your money...to the person whose main argument is that you shouldn't have the freedom to give him your money.

      Clearly you value having the freedom to give Moore your money...yet, you haven't written a single blog entry singing the praises of giving taxpayers the freedom to put their taxes where their mouths are.

      Markets work because you have the freedom to make mistakes with only as much money as other people choose to give to you. You're making a mistake giving your money and support to Michael Moore. But at least you don't have the power to give him my money and support. Do you want that ability though? Do you want to spend more money than you actually earn? Of course you do...that's exactly what liberalism is. And that's exactly why command economies will always be inferior to market economies.

      Delete
    3. Anonymous10:05 PM

      Absolutely free markets work because corporations have the freedom to misrepresent their products to get hold of other people's money to pay themselves huge huge salaries, while at the same time making mistakes which they hide until the money is all g...o...n...e.

      Moore's multimillions come from non-fraudulent endeavours.

      Harvey

      Delete
    4. Harvey...which expression have you heard more often..."the customer is king" or "the taxpayer is king"? According to google...there are 54 results for the taxpayer being king and 3,520,000 results for the customer being king. Yet, half of our nation's revenue is spent by the government.

      If taxpayers were given the freedom to shop for themselves in the public sector then government organizations will start saying that the taxpayer is king.

      Does Noah Smith want Michael Moore to have the freedom to directly allocate his taxes? Of course he does! Why else would he have given his hard-earned money to Moore? Smith wants Moore to represent his interests in the public sector. The same can not be said of Casey Mulligan. You know why? Because Smith does not believe it's worth it to purchase Mulligan's book.

      In the private sector we all have the freedom to ask ourselves whether something is worth it. You're going to ask yourself whether it's worth it to reply to me. Is it worth it? Markets work because the outcome depends on every single one of our individual valuations.

      "And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." - Joshua 24:15

      We create our gods. We use our belief and sacrifices to breath life into them. Giving gods our sacrifices is worth it as long as the blessings they give us are greater than the cost of our sacrifices. In other words...we all want to serve gods who treat us like kings.

      Show me your receipts and I'll show you who your gods are.

      Delete
    5. Xerographia, the problem with your proposal is precisely the nature of public goods. Sure, we can have taxpayers "shop for themselves in the public sector".

      Suppose, for instance, I choose to purchase a robust program against infectious diseases. The FREELOADERS who choose not to pay for it get the benefit of it anyway. They are then FREELOADERS. They need to be forced to pay for it, otherwise I am simply doing charity, not living in a society.

      Well, alternatively, we could make a special point of infecting them with the infectious diseases while isolating them from the rest of society, but that's both cruel and overly complicated, compared to JUST MAKING THEM PAY THEIR TAXES.

      Your proposal only works for things which lack the "freeloader problem". For those things, fine, yeah. But for things with the "freeloader problem", no, I do not want my neighbor paying for (say) wars in Iran, while I pay for his freedom from infectious diseases. That simply gives unreasonable power to freeloaders.

      Delete
    6. "I do not want my neighbor paying for (say) wars in Iran, while I pay for his freedom from infectious diseases. That simply gives unreasonable power to freeloaders."

      Wait...so even though both you and your neighbor would be paying taxes...you two would still be considered free-riders? Errr...so then what would you call the people who didn't pay any income taxes?

      What you're actually critiquing is the taxpayer division of labor. A taxpayer division of labor is the idea of watching each other's backs. You know what I mean? It's just not efficient/effective to expect every single individual to evaluate every single possible solution to every single possible problem.

      Directly allocating your taxes would be optional. So what would it mean if a taxpayer choose to make the effort to do so? Clearly they would perceive that congress was not adequately addressing a problem. Do we want each and every taxpayer to have this freedom? Of course! Do we want millions and millions of taxpayers to use their taxes to indicate what their priorities are? Of course!

      Look at your own behavior here in the comments. You read through the post/comments and made your contributions where you felt that they were most needed. And I did the same thing. We all did the same thing. The result is that our collective butts receive far far far greater coverage than if somebody had directed us where to respond.

      When I was in the infantry the guy in charge would shout ..."Follow me!!!" and we'd all shout back, "Lead the way!!!". The market works because Noah Smith can shout, "Follow me!!!" and I have the freedom to shout back, "You're going the wrong way!!!".

      How many government organizations are going the wrong way with our taxes? How could it be possible for them to all be going the right way? Life doesn't work like that. We're always going to be throwing virgins into volcanoes. Once you truly understand and accept that we're all fallible...then you'll understand why the rate of progress depends on giving people the freedom to doubt the business model.

      Delete
    7. neroden@gmail1:42 AM

      Xerographia, you really don't get it. If my neighbor is paying for wars in Iran, he is FREELOADING on my paying for infectious disease control; meanwhile, he is giving me no benefit whatever, because wars in Iran are actually *bad* for me as well as everyone else.

      He, however, is depending on me to bail him out of his decision to not pay for infectious disease control -- and is quite likely to brag about his freeloading. Given that situation, I have a strong incentive to shoot him and get rid of the problem.

      This makes no sense. If we have a democratically elected government, I can push to STOP funding wars in Iran. Under your system, no recourse, if he wants to fund wars in Iran, I can't stop him!

      The situation in comments -- there's no freeloader problem! Really, go back and understand the freeloader problem. I mentioned infectious disease control for a *reason*.

      Delete
    8. Yeah, because the whole "pushing to STOP funding wars" has really worked out so well.

      If the majority of people benefit from funding a war...then a pragmatarian system would at least allow you to prevent your own taxes from funding the war. If few people benefit from funding a war...then a pragmatarian system would allow the majority to prevent their taxes from funding the war.

      If only a small minority of wealthy people benefit from funding a war...then clearly this would call into question whether or not the war actually could be considered a "public" good.

      Does that make sense? If only 100 taxpayers chose to fund a war...then clearly the war could not be considered a "public" good. The "public" represents more than just 100 taxpayers. So how many taxpayers would have to choose to fund a war before it could be considered a "public" good?

      Why wouldn't you want us, as a society, to have this debate?

      I understand the free-rider problem perfectly well. Here's a blog entry that I wrote on the topic...Libertarianism and the Free-rider Problem.

      Now here's a list of concepts that you don't understand...

      1. Concentrated benefits and diffuse costs
      2. Decentralized knowledge
      3. Heterogeneous activity
      4. Opportunity cost
      5. Rational ignorance

      Delete
  20. I'm sympathetic to the people facing the destruction of their communities in the face of the changing economy, but I wouldn't say I'm supportive of Moore's animosity towards it. Those manufacturing belt communities were themselves built upon previous waves of disruption, when increasing agricultural productivity drove countless people off the farm and into cities (both in the US and elsewhere), and when transportation costs dropped low enough for millions of people to move in search of opportunity.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Anonymous12:53 PM

    It appears this blog has recently switched from being about economics to politics--really about advocacy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, it's just the influence of the election. This blog is basically "whatever pops into Noah Smith's head and is sort of related to economics, politics, policy, and public affairs in general". When I'm reading about politics constantly on Twitter and on my own favorite blogs, I'll tend to be thinking more about politics stuff. However, I'm sure this will soon fade, and I'll be back to idle thinking about the technical aspects of economics...

      Delete
  22. David, above you warn of the danger of self-satisfaction and over confidence. Now, you blithely assert that populist conservatives are "way beyond" liberals in their understanding. That's perhaps not easy to reconcile.

    Please take note: I didn't call anyone an "idiot". Ignorance is not the same as incapacity. Ignorance is a problem of non-utilization of existing capacity.

    I can listen to a Limbaugh, I choose not to as a rule because my time has value. What about you? Can you stomach Krugman's blog? There's a couple posts there right now that are very much on point.

    And for that matter, why don't you tell us specifically what it is about NPR that "rednecks" don't care for. Please, be specific.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Yes, you have a point. Perhaps I took too hard a position on liberals. My point should have simply been that conservative views are not based on ignorance. I took it up a level by arguing that if anyone's position is based on ignorance, it is liberals who campaign for regulations that only line the pockets of capitalists. But for now maybe we can call a truce on accusations of ignorance.

    Yes, I read Krugman regularly. In fact, I recently published a paper (“Slime Mold Cities.” Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, Vol. 39(2), March 2012, 262-286.) that borrows heavily from a model developed by Krugman. He has made many correct calls, such as his view back in 1998 that the euro was a mistake. I think he has gone off of the rails on a few issues, but he is still always worth reading.

    Good question about NPR. It isn't only conservatives who find it condescending - the OWS movement felt the same way, for good reason. NPR's bias is not right or left, but status quo. Smart, clever, educated people always come off well. Ordinary people who are either cute or pathetic get air time, but otherwise they are ignored. The message is: go to college, be nice to your parents, and don't rock the boat.

    The ideological boundaries are very tight. People in the middle, like David Brooks, are featured, but it is hard to find anyone with unusual ideas. (unless they are cute and lovable)

    Noam Chomsky says it very well here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MXh1_ubCQAI

    Again, non-elite conservatives (and non elite leftists) sense that something is wrong if they listen to NPR. The things they care about aren't talked about. They are either marginalized or ridiculed. Sorry I am not being more specific, but Chomsky is specific.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is getting interesting! Am I mistaken or is a self-identified conservative citing Chomsky?!

      You know, to merely say "NPR is annoying" isn't saying much. OF COURSE it is annoying (at least sometimes.) It annoys the crap out of me on a regular basis. But probably for reasons quite different than your average Limbaugh fan.

      I'm saying that when it comes to the job of •actually informing the public• there isn't any comparison between Limbaugh and NPR.

      More generally, conservative thought is to an unfortunate extent characterized by a disinclination to learn new things.

      http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/19/views-differ-on-age-of-planet/

      My view of Chomsky--and I've read a considerable amount of him--is that he has gone off the rails in recent decades. He is caught in his own bubble of leftist ideas and it's not a pretty sight.

      Delete
    2. Chomsky and and Krugman are both brilliant. I tend to agree with many of their positive findings, but disagree with their normative conclusions. Chomsky is particularly good at finding hypocrisy in U.S. foreign policy positions. I worry that Krugman's economics are getting sloppy, but he is good at clearly laying out the liberal economic position.

      Ideologues on both sides hate to learn new things. That is why MSNBC, Fox News, Daily Kos, and the Drudge Report are all attracting so many viewers - everyone wants confirmation, not challenges to their ideas.

      What is annoying about NPR is that the tone is intellectual, but the content shows very limited intellectual curiosity. What is interesting about commercial talk radio is that the tone is non-intellectual, but the hosts consider a surprising range of ideas. Both are limited, of course, but NPR is annoying because it disappoints. Talk radio is exciting because it can be surprising - perhaps because expectations for it are so low.

      At the moment, I'm not sure which is doing a better job of "informing the public." NPR's tone is so chipper these days that listeners must believe that everything is going to be hunky-dory as soon as those silly Republicans give up for good. Rush listeners are worried that hard times are coming. We will have to wait and see which listeners were better served.

      Delete
    3. Agree or disagree: Chomsky is an ideologue, Krugman is not. That is certainly my opinion.

      My sense of Limbaugh is he's an ideologue, but to an equal or greater extent he's just a self-interested business man eager to exploit an effective schtick. He sells outrage to a mostly disenfranchised segment of society. I really don't think he's too concerned with solutions.

      Nor do I think your characterization of NPR is fair. NPR doesn't have a unified message or agenda. They don't use a "chipper" tone while reporting on Gaza, and when they do use an upbeat tone chances are it's because they're catering to an educated audience less susceptible to the despair which is common among the less educated and less affluent.

      Delete
    4. Krugman has become an idealogue, but that doesn't mean he isn't worth reading.

      All three are self-promoters, but what is wrong with that?

      if Romney had won, NPR would be a lot less chipper about the economy over thenext four years.

      Good point about catering to an affluent audience.

      Delete
    5. I guess my definition of ideologue would be "having an attachment to certain ideas which prevents clear observations of the world." I think Krugman has beliefs, or values, but I don't think they inhibit his powers of observation. That is my view.

      Nothing necessarily wrong with self promotion. Krugman has a huge ego and loves to toot his own horn. But his goal is to educate the public in the service of a fairer, less unequal society. Limbaugh's goal, if you ask me, is to enrich himself by means of keeping people angry and impotent. His methods and purposes are low and ignoble.

      It has been nice debating with you, David. Happy Thanksgiving!

      Delete
    6. Thanks! Happy Thanksgiving!

      Delete
    7. neroden@gmail1:45 AM

      David, you're wrong: what passes for modern "conservative" views are mostly based on ignorance. This has been demonstrated with extensive empirical evidence, which is rather disturbing, actually. :-( I suggest you start looking some of it up.

      You're right that NPR has status quo bias, of course.

      But Limbaugh just lies. I'm extremely well-informed, and I can spot the lies, but the average listener can't -- and doesn't go to places like Media Matters to read the debunkings. Exploring unpopular ideas is good and all, but doing it with dishonesty isn't good.

      Delete
  24. Thank you for pointing out the "Rabbit Scene" on your blog Noah. I don't think many people realize just how folks on the other side of the tracks in this country really live. They have no voice, no one understands what they have to go through, and it's disgusting to many of us.

    Well now we have things like Facebook and blogs to give a voice to those who are not able to speak for themselves. And ANYONE in this country who is not sympathetic to people like that, well, I have no sympathy for you or your lifestyle. And it has become my life's work to point out these various underground holes where people live different lifestyles IN HIDING NO LESS because our society has driven them there.

    ReplyDelete
  25. I saw Fahrenheit 9/11. I think it is wonderful. I am quite sure the claims of fact in the film are accurate. I read somewhere that Bowling for Columbine is not as accurate and that Moore hired fact checkers for Fahrenheit 9/11 and Sicko.

    It is notably that the CNN attempt to fact check Sicko included no identification of errors of fact in the film. All but one of the fact checks were observations that Moore hadn't reported all facts related to health care (you're shocked I'm sure) -- that is debating pro to Moore's con but not finding errors of fact. The one alleged error of fact was CNN's error -- they claimed that the film asserted something which it didn't assert. CNN admits that their fact check was in error. They continue to argue that Moore was rude and besides he is fat.

    I think confidence that Fahrenheit 9/11 and Sicko contains errors of fact is a very diagnostic symptom of conservadelusion.

    So I agree with your assessment. Also I admire your reasoning and you write well.

    ReplyDelete
  26. It has been almost 10 years since I since Columbine but wasn't the whole point to give societal context to the Columbine shooting? Something he failed at in my opinion. There were parts of it that I thought were interesting but the majority of the arguments (and some of the editing was definitely misleading) were terrible. That and his use of the security camera footage of Columbine (which really seemed gratuitous to me) really soured me on seeing the rest of his work.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Sicko is about America's health care system, and the alternatives. Before I saw Sicko, I believed the common line that, for all its flaws, America's health care system was "the best in the world". After I saw the movie, I did not believe anything of the kind. Sicko opened my eyes to the existence of Britain's National Health Service; after watching the movie, I looked into the NHS, and found that it achieves better results than the U.S. on almost any outcome measure, for far fewer costs. Importantly, it does this using a rational incentive system - doctors are paid for improving the health of their patients, not for recommending large numbers of expensive services.

    This makes my head go "boink". You really were an innocent babe when you first forayed into economics and public policy, weren't you?

    ReplyDelete
  28. Anonymous9:02 PM

    That picture of Moore at the top of the page must be at least 25 years old because Moore does not look anything like that now. Have you actually seen him lately...?? He looks awful, a sallow complected, fat, disgusting slob, he looks like a poster boy for both diabetes and obesity, but I suppose that's where the country is headed, just take a look at our youth today, quite a few of them look just like Moore, it's very sad.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Anonymous5:54 PM

    Moore is a funny boy. It's clear he doens't understand basic economics.

    ReplyDelete