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Saturday, March 6, 2010

Health Care and the Resolution of Cognitive Dissonance

The conservative punditry (eg. Steyn) frequently asserts that once a government healthcare bill passes, it will be virtually impossible to roll back. The American population will rapidly degenerate to a passive, infantile state more commonly associated with European serfs than American pioneers. Our great northern neighbors constitute Exhibit A. According to many polls, Canadians massively support their national healthcare system, even though it enforces severe rationing by means of long queues for basic services. Why will we be different?

Certainly our history with the programs of the Great Society (which struck me as such abominations in my youth but no longer excite the same levels of indignation in my middle years) supports this dismal viewpoint. As an eternal optimist, however, I note several essentially different features of the current situation.

Quoth Wikipedia, "Cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously. The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors, or by justifying or rationalizing them."

Voters supported the Great Society legislation but were subsequently faced by its manifold failures, such as the creation of a permanent underclass in America. The simplest way to resolve the conflict between their initial enthusiasm and the subsequent disappointing reality was to ignore the failures and inflate the benefits. Similarly, a Canadian (self-definition: not American) takes great pride in his government healthcare. It is one of the primary ways he distinguishes himself from his southern neighbors. When he is treated to extortionate tax rates, multiyear waits for simple surgical procedures, and surgery without anesthesia (as happened to one of my Canadian acquaintances) - when even his elected officials go to the U.S. for their healthcare, he preserves his belief in the the superiority of his system by exaggerating the problems in U.S. healthcare. He believes stories of Americans dying in the streets unable to access healthcare.

The American public has loudly and clearly expressed its hostility to the looming destruction of our healthcare system. Currently, most Americans have no psychological investment in the success of the new government mandates. In fact, the majority, who have been fighting against statist health policies, will view through a microscope every failure of the Democrats' Rube Goldberg creation. They will note every new tax, every premium increase, and every loss of service. If there are any benefits, they are more likely to be minimized than emphasized. It is the nature of the beast. In such an environment, the Republicans taking over Congress this November still have time to reverse the government takeover of the health sector of the economy.

I am not sure what means our new Republican Congress will employ in 2011 to roll back the implementation of the Democratic plan, if it is forced down our throats. I do think we have more time than generally claimed before we turn into a flock of Eurosheep.

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