Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Democrats: More Than Health Care - New York Times

Democrats: More Than Health Care - New York Times

Democrats: More Than Health Care

Published: January 2, 2008

Perhaps you have heard that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have come up with different health care plans. Hers would require every American to own health insurance. His would not.

That difference is the only one between the two candidates on any domestic policy that has received much attention. (Think about it: can you name another?) Outside of health care, the campaigns — and we in the media — have focused on more exalted concepts, like experience, change and judgment.

But there really are some other important differences between the candidates. When you look at their policies as a whole, you see that Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama have actually laid out two competing economic philosophies. The fight over health insurance is just one part of their disagreement.

Compared with all the other candidates — Democrat and Republican — Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama occupy roughly the same place on the ideological spectrum. They’re both somewhat to the right of John Edwards, who favors a more muscular brand of government intervention to help the middle class. And they are well to the left of every Republican.

But the differences between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama can’t be neatly captured with the standard language of right and left.

The easiest way to describe Senator Clinton’s philosophy is to say that she believes in the promise of narrowly tailored government policies, like focused tax cuts. She has more faith that government can do what it sets out to do, which is a traditionally liberal view. Yet she also subscribes to the conservative idea that people respond rationally to financial incentives.

Senator Obama’s ideas, on the other hand, draw heavily on behavioral economics, a left-leaning academic movement that has challenged traditional neoclassical economics over the last few decades. Behavioral economists consider an abiding faith in rationality to be wishful thinking. To Mr. Obama, a simpler program — one less likely to confuse people — is often a smarter program.