Evening Must-Read: Sharon Long et al.: Number of Uninsured Adults Continues to Fall under the ACA: Down by 8.0 Million in June 2014
Liveblogging the American Revolution: July 12, 1776: Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union

Weekend Reading: Jonathan Chait vs. The Hax of Sol III

Jonathan Chait vs. Peter Suderman on ObamaCare:

Jonathan Chait: Libertarian Accidentally Shows Obamacare Success: "The Commonwealth Fund has a new survey...

...showing that the proportion of adults lacking health insurance has fallen by a quarter, from 20 percent of the population to 15 percent. (Most respondents, including 74 percent of newly insured Republicans, report liking their plan.) Also, this week, the Congressional Budget Office again revised down its cost estimates for Medicare, which now spends $50 billion a year less than it was projected to before Obamacare passed. Also, the New England Journal of Medicine recently estimated that 20 million Americans gained insurance under the new law.

The latter study comes in for criticism by Peter Suderman, Reason’s indefatigable health-care analyst.

Like the entire right-wing media, Suderman’s coverage of Obamacare has furnished an endless supply of mockery of the law’s endless failures and imminent collapse. While some of his points have validity, it’s fair to say that the broader narrative conveyed by his work, which certainly lies on the sophisticated end of the anti-Obamacare industry, has utterly failed to prepare his libertarian readers for the possibility that the hated health-care law will actually work more or less as intended.

And yet, in another way, the conservative media has provided a useful lagging indicator of Obamacare’s progress. The message of every individual story is that the law is failing, the administration is lying, and so on. The substance, when viewed as a whole, tells a different story. Here is how Suderman, to take just one example, has described the continuous advancement of the law’s coverage goals:

January 21: The prognosis was so grim that Obamacare might not have yielded any net reduction in the uninsured (“it appears possible that there has been no net expansion of private coverage at all”).

January 23: The situation had grown perhaps slightly less bleak — meager reductions in the uninsured rate may have taken place (“it's still possible that the number of people with insurance of any kind (including Medicaid) has increased, but the number of people with private insurance has not”).

February 24: It appeared that non-trivial numbers of Americans, perhaps a couple million, had gained insurance, but far less than the claimed 7 million:

We don’t know how exactly many people have gotten health coverage through Medicaid for the first time as a result of Obamacare, but the actual number is certainly much lower than the 7 million President Obama claimed …

That means a significant downward revision is coming — a 20 to 30 percent reduction would bring total enrollments down to between 2.31 million and 2.64 million.

March 11: The number of newly covered had risen from the mid-2 millions to around 3 million — far less than the 13 million claimed by Obama:

instead of the 13 million people the administration the administration counts as having obtained coverage under the law, the total gain in coverage for the previously is really more like 3 million, most of which comes through the dysfunctional Medicaid system. If so, that’s not nothing, but it’s a lot less than most anyone who supported the law predicted or hoped.

July 8: A New England Journal of Medicine report that 20 million Americans have gained insurance under Obamacare, argues Suderman, is probably too high (“it’s too early to say exactly how many so far — only that 20 million is almost certainly an overstatement”).

We have gone from learning that the law has failed to cover anybody to learning it would cover a couple million to learning it would cover a few million to learning that it has probably insured fewer than 20 million people halfway through year one.

The message of every individual dispatch is a confident prediction of the hated enemy's demise, yet the terms described in each, taken together, tell the story of retreat:

  • The enemy’s invasion fleet has been destroyed...
  • Its huge losses on the field of battle have left it on the brink of surrender...
  • The enemy soldiers will be slaughtered by our brave civilian defenders as they attempt to enter the capital...
  • The resistance will triumph!...

Jonathan Chait vs. Ross Douthat on what Paul Ryan thinks:

Jonathan Chait: 7 Ways Paul Ryan Revealed His Love for Ayn Rand: "Is Paul Ryan an earnest, fiscally responsible wonk looking to make government more efficient...

...or an Ayn Rand–influenced ideologue determined to stop government from taking rich people’s money? This has been a long-standing debate between people like me and Ryan’s admirers in the political press corps. It is also a question of long-standing debate with Ryan defenders on the center-right like Ross Douthat, who once again defends his faith in Ryan’s hidden, subtextual, implied, or yet to fully emerge pragmatic impulses. Since Douthat likewise takes another opportunity to eye-roll my more direct, text-based reading of Ryan’s ideology (“a Randian Ryan or an apocalyptic Ryan or any other interpretation of his record Chait prefers”), the time seems right to summarize the evidence for my case. So, here are seven things Paul Ryan has done that suggest Ayn Rand has influenced him:

  1. Spent the Bush years demanding larger, more regressive tax cuts than Bush himself was proposing, urging them to be less afraid of “class warfare.”

  2. Spent the Obama years repeatedly proposing budgets that “would produce the largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history.” In other words, Ryan’s entire legislative career.

  3. Listed Rand’s magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged, as one of the three books he most frequently rereads.

  4. Told The Weekly Standard, "I give out Atlas Shrugged as Christmas presents, and I make all my interns read it.”

  5. Repeatedly divided American society into “makers” and “takers.”

  6. Declared that Rand’s thinking is “sorely needed right now” because we are “living in an Ayn Rand novel” and that “Ayn Rand, more than anyone else, did a fantastic job of explaining the morality of capitalism, the morality of individualism, and this, to me, is what is [sic] matters most.”

  7. Appeared at a gathering of Rand devotees and declared Rand’s philosophy was “the reason I got involved in public service,” that he makes it “required reading in my office for all my interns and my staff,” and that her philosophy continues to inspire “almost every fight we are involved in here, on Capitol Hill.”

My interpretation that Rand has strongly influenced Ryan’s economic philosophy seems fairly straightforward: He has repeatedly described Rand as the touchstone for his public philosophy, and Ryan’s career in elected office has in fact reflected this commitment by working to reduce redistribution both from the “makers” and to the “takers.”

What is the case on the other side? Douthat has dismissed Ryan’s repeated expressions of philosophical affinity — “Ryan has said kind words about Ayn Rand” — which is accurate in the sense that “Lenin once had kind words for Marx” accurately summarizes the Soviet revolutionary’s affinity for communist theory. Douthat likewise dismisses the Randist analysis of Ryan’s work by pointing not to his proposals themselves but to other clues that lie outside the text. His post emphasizes “the Ryan who matters” — not the one who has endorsed deep cuts to the top tax rate and massive cuts in spending for the poor and sick. Likewise, we shouldn’t judge Ryan literally on the content of his proposals because “my sense is that Ryan himself might accept some of the merits” of the critique. Also, the true Ryan, argues Douthat, can be seen in the "outline" of "forays" into as-yet-nonexistent proposals:

While there isn’t (yet) a Ryan blueprint specifically focused on safety-net reform, if you look at some of his post-2012 forays on the issue, you can see the outline (in this op-ed, for instance) of a more plausible approach, in which the focus is on reshaping anti-poverty programs rather than just slashing them to achieve unlikely spending targets.

... as opposed to the actual proposals that Ryan has authored, voted for, and repeatedly held up as America’s salvation.