08 Aug 2009

Krugman the Scientist Explains the Elderly Rioters

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From his latest NYT column:

But while the organizers are as crass as they come, I haven’t seen any evidence that the people disrupting those town halls are Florida-style rent-a-mobs. For the most part, the protesters appear to be genuinely angry. The question is, what are they angry about?

There was a telling incident at a town hall held by Representative Gene Green, D-Tex. An activist turned to his fellow attendees and asked if they “oppose any form of socialized or government-run health care.” Nearly all did. Then Representative Green asked how many of those present were on Medicare. Almost half raised their hands.

Now, people who don’t know that Medicare is a government program probably aren’t reacting to what President Obama is actually proposing. They may believe some of the disinformation opponents of health care reform are spreading, like the claim that the Obama plan will lead to euthanasia for the elderly. (That particular claim is coming straight from House Republican leaders.) But they’re probably reacting less to what Mr. Obama is doing, or even to what they’ve heard about what he’s doing, than to who he is.

That is, the driving force behind the town hall mobs is probably the same cultural and racial anxiety that’s behind the “birther” movement, which denies Mr. Obama’s citizenship. Senator Dick Durbin has suggested that the birthers and the health care protesters are one and the same; we don’t know how many of the protesters are birthers, but it wouldn’t be surprising if it’s a substantial fraction.

If you’re curious as to Krugman’s evidence for this, he actually resorted to an a priori deduction (he must have been reading Mises). I think Krugman’s argument goes like this:

(1) The people say they are afraid of government taking over health care.
(2) The government already has taken over health care, and that’s nothing to be scared about. Therefore the rioting seniors don’t really mean it when they say (1).
(3) The only other explanation is that they’re racists.

Go ahead and read Krugman’s column if you think I’m being unfair.

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