It was rather refreshing to see the very brief return of cost/benefit analysis to the American Left during the Ebola crisis. You had to listen carefully to hear it, but the muddled arguments against imposing a travel ban on the West African outbreak nations boiled down to an assertion that the safety benefits would not be worth the costs, which would be paid primarily by inconvenienced West Africans, whose prosperity America was held vaguely responsible for, because slavery.
It’s quite reasonable to measure cost against benefits, but the Left hates doing it, because many of their ideas look less attractive – if not downright absurd – when such calculations are made. Much of modern politics can be thought of as the art of promising benefits without regard to cost. If necessary, cost gets straitjacketed and locked in a closet until the political discussion is over. The related subject of exactly who covers the cost, and how that group overlaps with who gets the benefits, is considered extremely rude to bring up. Politicians are very generous with other peoples’ money. No one is more gregarious than the liberal politician who has never, in his life, been forced to make a business payroll, but is eager to burden those who do with minimum wage increases.
All sorts of ideas are palatable to the American electorate only because they don’t think about the cost. (The belief that the Evil Rich can cover those costs out of loose change from their treasure vaults is another way of ignoring cost, because people who think that way are convinced looting the rich is a “soft” crime – they’re not really injured by confiscatory taxation, because they have plenty of money to spare.) For example, no Big Government enthusiast likes to talk about the way rising fuel-efficiency standards for automobiles kill people, but it is undeniably true – the fatality rates for traffic accidents rise as cars get smaller and lighter. It’s a trade-off, and such standards have benefits, ranging from consumer savings on gas to environmental benefits, but nobody wants to think about those benefits in terms of human lives lost.
ObamaCare is a fantastic example of how abject failure can be portrayed as success, provided the costs are completely ignored. In this case, people who complain about their personal costs – rising insurance premiums, lost access to doctors …read more