Monday, March 26, 2007

Uh, No, Nevermind. I Mean 47 Million.

I might as well make this a flurry of blog posts and mention that I think Ezra Klein is not right about this:
Good news out of the Census Bureau today: Estimates that the uninsured have reached 47 million were overstated, the real number is closer to 45 million. That's two million fewer people than we though [sic] lacking coverage, which is a welcome surprise.
Just the opposite in my view. There aren't actually 2 million fewer uninsured than there was before, so we haven't actually gained anything in terms of general welfare. At the same time, we've somewhat eroded the apparent urgency of the problem since the revision will strike many people vaguely like an improvement of some kind. I think I'd rather we somewhat overstate the magnitude of the problem for the time being and wait until we've solved the problem before we start making revisions of our measurements.


Tommaso Sciortino said...

I completely disagree (unless I misunderstand you). Overstating the real number by 2 million only works to motivate people at the price of losing trust in these kinds of numbers. Lying (even if accidental) to get your way is not a viable long-term strategy.

Paul said...

Well, I don't think it's lying if it's accidental, and as long as we're introducing incredulity into the system by revising estimates, I would rather it happen later than sooner.

I'm not saying we should deliberately cook the books. That would be lying, and I think that you're right that it would inevitably backfire over the long term. That's not related to the narrow question, though, of whether the case for universal health care is helped or hurt by this particular revision. I think nothing is gained by this revision, and a little urgency is lost, so it's a net negative. So I think it's unfortunate, whereas Klein treats it as cause for celebration.

I can see I might have sounded like I mean, Deliberately avoid revising the numbers to make them more reliable. What I really meant was that I think the ideal situation is one where very honest, qualified people make a mistake that overstates the number of uninsured and nobody notices the error until some sort of universal health care system is in place. You don't aim for that, but you kind of hope for it quietly.