The Edwards Mandate Revisited

THE EDWARS MANDATE REVISITED....Writing from the land of tulips and universal healthcare, Ezra Klein says I'm giving short shrift to the political merits of individual mandate healthcare plans (i.e., all of the plans currently on the table from the Democratic presidential candidates). But I think he missed the point of my criticism (here) of John Edwards' plan for enforcing enrollment in his version of IM.

As it happens, I really do think individual mandate plans are dumb on pure policy grounds. But I also realize that my preferred alternative is a political loser and that IM is (possibly) a political winner. So I'm for it. But that's exactly why Edwards' Diogenes-like effort to define his enforcement mechanism for IM in such mind-numbing detail is a bad idea: it practically forces voters to confront the fact that IM doesn't really make much sense. If you're really that dead serious about forcing everyone to get coverage, why the Rube Goldberg mechanism? Why not just tax everyone and sign 'em up for Medicare?

This is, frankly, something you want to elide, not something you want to sharpen, and a smart politician understands this. Ezra is right when he says that IM "basically trades away certain amount of economic efficiency in order to evade the political implications of nationalizing health spending." That being the case, it's politically wise to keep things fuzzy at this point — especially since enforcement is a detail that has no chance of surviving the political process intact anyway, and accomplishes nothing except providing your opponents with an opening for demagogic attacks. Right?

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