Reading through Cowen's Chapter 6 on self deception, I got thinking about a lot of things. Self interest is obviously very prevalent, and a long time ago, I would have wondered why he says it is necessary. I suppose it does keep people happy. I don't think it's completely necessary to keep us happy though. Some people are indeed content with things, and they don't need to deceive themselves into believing they will actually be rich and live on the beach someday.
But enough of this small talk. What I really thought was great in this chapter was Cowen's short discussion on self deception in politics, especially those of health care in this country. For example, why do people clamor for health care for those who can't afford it? Do they really care that much? I doubt it. This discussion relates to many things, but insurance is relevant in today's climate because EVERYBODY is talking about it. And they won't shut up, either.
I'll say this once, and I hope it sticks: There is nothing generous about talking about the government helping people. That isn't a helpful act. I don't even think that qualifies as compassion. Real compassion and generosity can be found in soup kitchens, at poor houses, and other places where charitable action rather than talk rules the day. Talking about the government helping people may make some people feel good, but in reality it is an easy out for people who don't want to actually contribute to society.
Political rant aside, there is another interesting point of the discussion. Cowen says we should help select people in crisis, but choose them carefully. That doesn't sound so bad, and the economic ramifications would probably be so small that they aren't worth thinking about. But then I have to wonder: Can we trust government to choose selectively, in a just manner? And if intentions are good (are they ever? I hope so...), exactly how should government choose who they help? Certainly some sort of code would have to be made, and I believe that this could be done, especially on a small scale.
But say we start out only helping those in crisis. How about the people in semi-crises? They'll start complaining, I guarantee it. Or someone will start complaining to get their votes. Either way, they're going to end up getting help too, or being very discontent (I'd go with the first option; it looks better for politicians actually doing the "work", and politics are all about show). Then the semi-semi-crisis people will want and get help, and so on. It's a never ending tidal wave of aid, and it will never stop in a representative government made up of people trying to win votes.
Maybe jumpstarting some charity organizations focused on health care would be a better go. Sometimes it's just better to not start something, because you end up getting a whole lot more than you bargained for. The effects in health care are already seen with the ballooning of medicaid, medicare, and SCHIP. Can we expect them to stop growing and set a limit? Nah. They'll keep going until they get too big and explode in our government-dependent faces.