Friday, May 09, 2014

Obamacare and Fun With Latin Logic Phrases

One of my favorite time wasting activities is looking up Latin phrases for logical fallacies (I clearly have a very active social life). It's not just that whipping out a Latin phrase at the right time makes you look super smart and/or pretentious, but that often they have a beautiful simplicity that captures a rather lengthy argument in just a few words.

But since I never studied Latin, I often find myself looking for a specific phrase but having to reverse engineer it through the magic of google (so I often find myself searching something to the effect of "Latin phrase meaning your conclusion does not follow your premises," or some such). Today's Latin logic phrase of the day is Ignoratio Elenchi, meaning when one presents an argument that is solidly logical, but does nothing to support the conclusion they're advocating.

I thought of this while reading yet another complain about the Affordable Care Act this morning and wondering why I find myself so often in disagreement with conservative critics of the ACA when I myself hate the ACA. I think it's because while there are many, many valid criticisms of the act, so many of the most vocal critics of it use what are basically non sequiturs in their attacks, clearly starting from the position that Anything Obama Does = Bad, and then working backwards from there to figure out why any particular action itself is bad.

For instance, one of the most common criticisms of the ACA I see from very vocal opponents is the idea that it will not be financially solvent unless enough healthy young people who rarely use their benefits sign up for it to defray the costs of taking care of older and/or sicker people who use many more resources.

The problem with this line of reasoning is that the idea that a health insurance program will only work with enough healthy people to offset the people actually using their benefits is not a criticism of the ACA, it's a criticism of the concept of health insurance itself. This is the exact logic the entire private insurance system is based on, a logic that was in place long before Mitt Romney and co. developed the plan that would eventually become the ACA. Now, if you were proposing an alternative in which our health care is socialized and the government uses the awesome purchasing power of 300+ million people to negotiate affordable rates on medical care, then you could criticize this model. But if your alternative is to return to the system that invented this model in the first place, the critique rings pretty hollow.

Which is what I think makes it such a good example of in ignoratio elenchi. Because the idea that young, healthy people who use very few medical resources are necessary to offset the costs of people who actually use medical resources is a valid critique of a system of medicine. But when your counterproposal to what exists is based on the exact same logic, well…again, that's just not a very good criticism. Instead, it's clearly a criticism that began with the assumption the ACA is terrible and then worked backward to find specific faults. Of which there are many, but this one doesn't work.

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