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Opening Arguments

I know what's best for you

George Will: Obamacare is applied Bloomberg-ism:

“As a result, the supporters of Obamacare are pioneering new dimensions of sophistry,” Will said. “Steny Hoyer, the second ranking Democrat in the House, today said the president should have caveated it. That’s a clunky verb. What he means is he should have put asterisk over the statement. And the asterisk would say, ‘You could keep your insurance if and only if you buy the insurance that we think you ought to have,’ which reveals the part of Obamacare that is applied Bloomberg-ism. The mayor of New York’s been a very candid progressive. He says, ‘I know what you ought to eat, I know what you ought to drink and I’m going to use the police power of the city to make you do it.’ And Obamacare says exactly the same thing — you’re free to choose if you choose the right thing.”

The temptation to tell people "OK, go ahead and choose what I want you to choose" is so strong that sometimes it even infects people of my ilk who instinctively distrust government on general principle. A few years ago there was quite a bit of buzz about the concept of "libertarian paternalism," which is about as oxymornic as it sounds. The idea is that most people will choose the default position when given a choice, so we should change the default option to what we think is a desired outcome.
If the default position is, for example, that you don't have money from your paycheck going into a tax-deferred savings plan -- in other words, you have to actually sign up for it -- then most people will not sign up for the plan. But putting money aside and getting a tax break for it is a good thing, and we want to encourage people to make that wise choice. So we change the default position to "money goes into the savings account" and make people have to act positively to prevent it, then suddenly most people will sign up for the plan. We have preserved freedom of choice and encouraged people to do the right thing all at the same time.
And it's crap. If I think I know what's best for you and try to trick you into doing it, I'm still being a manipulative, intrusive jerk. It's blasphemy to have the term "libertarian" anywhere near the concept.