2013-11-08

Why Don't I Play For The NBA?

There I was, watching an NBA game on TV, when suddenly one of the players did something that I thought was really stupid. I yelled at the television, hoping that the player would hear me and act differently, but of course there was no use. Sure enough, he took a really bad shot, and it was totally blocked by an opposing player, who then managed to retrieve the ball and charge to the other side of the court for an easy dunk.

The whole thing was obvious to me. I could see it coming a mile away. So why don't I play for the NBA?

Note carefully: I do not mean to ask, "Why don't I practice for years and get good enough at basketball that I can be drafted by the NBA and play better than the player who blew it?" Nor do I mean to ask why the NBA hasn't already drafted me.

No, I'm asking a much simpler/dumber question: Why don't I go right this very minute to the Mavericks' head office, submit my resume this afternoon, and start work Monday as the newest member of the team? Why don't I play for the NBA? Stop snickering.

What Happened? Why Didn't It Work?
Part of a recent Time article reads as follows:
Just a few weeks earlier, Obama had appeared in the Rose Garden to announce a similarly stunning reversal in messaging, this time about the state of the website designed to allow people to sign up for the plan. “No one is more frustrated than I am,” he said on October 21 of the technical problems that had rendered the website for the Affordable Care Act inoperable. For the three weeks prior, Obama had dismissed the plague of technical issues as mere “glitches,” and complained that Republicans were “rooting for failure” when they were discussed.
In principle, health care reform is easy. The insurance companies are rich, so we'll just force them to cover people. This will create a moral hazard among the uninsured, so we'll just force them to buy insurance, and if anyone slips through the cracks, we'll just fill in the cracks with federal subsidies. You know, spread the wealth around.

So it can be frustrating when it doesn't work, you know? No one is more frustrated than the president. I mean, think about how frustrating it must be to tell people exactly what needs to be done, and have them basically not do it at all, or to screw it up completely.

It would be a lot like watching an NBA game on TV, knowing exactly what the player needs to do, and watching him screw it up anyway.

The Theory Is The Hole In The Theory
Let's say the NBA hired me, and I started playing professional basketball tomorrow.

Okay, full disclosure: I am not any good at basketball. Try as I might, I will never be able to play basketball at the same level as even the worst NBA players. But here's the important part: This is true, even if the NBA hires me. Get that? Just because someone at the NBA suddenly declares that I am an NBA basketball player does not actually mean that I will be able to do the job. I'll be a basketball player in name only. Even if I have the uniform, and the salary, and the entourage of gold-diggers, and even if I get to be part of the starting line-up, even then I won't be able to do the job. They would have hired me to fail, and fail is exactly what I would do.

No matter how much I might know what to do when I see an NBA game on television, and no matter who declares that I am the next starting point guard for the Dallas Mavericks, and no matter how much everyone really and truly wants me to be the greatest NBA player in the world, it's not going to happen.

Now back to Barack Obama. He knows what to do to reform health care. I summarized it above. (See? Even I know what to do!) Not only does he know what to do, he's the boss, so he can say what to do, he can proclaim it, he can declare that this is how it is going to be done from now on.

And despite everyone knowing what to do, and despite the giant proclamation the declares, once and for all, that this is what we are going to do, it still fails.

Why? Do you think about that? Do you wonder why someone might fail despite the fact that we all know what needs to be done and someone important has declared that it will be done? Why would we turn around and discover that we have failed?

Average Joes Can't Win NBA Games; Governments Can't Reform Health Care
The answer is obvious. We can dress it up in the stupid, over-wrought language of Hayek or Buchanan if we want to, but the fundamental principle is obvious.

No matter how hard I try, no matter who declares what, I'm not going to win any NBA games, not ever. I won't, period. Even if I know what to do with my hands and with the ball and all of that, even if everyone gets it, I'm not going to win.

This is not a "knowledge problem." This is not a "political problem." This is not a "governance problem." This is a Ryan-Isn't-A-Friggin'-Basketball-Player problem. Get it? I don't magically turn into an awesome basketball player just because somebody tells me what to do and gives me the authority to do it.

I'm not just belly-aching about government here, either. I'm not saying that the government should just do things my way instead of Barack Obama's way. Really, I'm not. What I'm saying is that you can't just say that the government should do something and then suddenly watch perfection unfold in front of you.

If you could do that - if all it took was knowing what to do and having the opportunity to do it - then we'd all be friggin' NBA basketball players. The reason we're not NBA players is not lack of knowledge and opportunity, it's our lack of literal years of expertise doing something better than even all the other people who do it better than anyone else.

Conclusion
I mean, how many times are we going to watch this train wreck happen? How many times are we going to convince ourselves that all we need to do to fix any problem is figure out what to do and the declare that the government will do it?

Let us concede that whatever stupid thing we think will solve the problem actually will solve it. That is, let's ignore the major challenges of the health care sector as assume that the only problem is that dastardly insurance companies won't offer cheap coverage to people who need it. Let us concede that the only thing that needs to be done is that we pass a law that spells out how to expand insurance coverage to the whole entire universe, and then nominate some sort of Health Insurance Czar.

What the flying-frog makes us think that this is all it takes???

Who do you think you are? Oprah?