You should watch me write these posts. I had no idea this post was going to end up talking about healthcare.
Jesse Galef of Measuring Doubt caught ESPN writer Pat Yasinkas making a classic mistake called outcome bias. Talking about the Atlanta Falcons who tried and failed on a fourth and inches attempts:
When Mike Smith first decided to go for it on fourth-and-inches in overtime, I liked the call. I thought it was gutsy and ambitious. After watching Michael Turner get stuffed, I changed my mind. Smith should have punted and taken his chances with his defense.
I hope it’s pretty obvious what’s wrong with . It’s easy to decide what the right call would have been after the fact. Next time Yasinkas wants to play the lottery, he should ask to see if he can see the numbers that will be drawn first. Read the rest of Galef’s post in which he demonstrates that the Falcon’s actually did make the right call.
I see sports fans making this mistake all the time and I’m sure I do it too. Why didn’t the Canadiens draft Jeff Carter, Ryan Kesler or Ryan Getzlaf with their first pick in 2003 instead of Andrei Kostitsyn (this might seem like an obscure complaint but Habs fans will never forget it)? There is definitely skill involved in assessing hockey talent in young players–some scouts are better than others–but there’s also a lot of unpredictable things that can happen to a young player that makes him a better or worse player than he was on draft day.
I also see people and journalists judging politicians in the same way. We expect our politicians to always make the right decisions and we judge them based on the outcomes of their decisions when we should really be judging them against what the opposition would have done in the same situation (ignoring the fact that the opposition will always say they would have done the right thing).
But there’s another more subtle way people make this mistake. When discussing Canadian healthcare with my more conservative friends I often hear, “why should I have to pay for someone else’s healthcare?” Oh, my dear conservative friend, you don’t get to see the outcome of the lottery before you decide whether you’re going to buy your ticket. In classic Rawlsian style, what if I asked you to choose before you were born, before you knew you were going to be born healthy or with a debilitating expensive-to-treat disease, whether you wanted single payer healthcare or not, would you choose to risk it? Maybe. You might decide you still want to roll the dice but the choice shouldn’t be as obvious anymore.
I would then go on to ask you if it’s fair that someone who has a genetic disease should pay for their disease given that are not to blame for their disease, but that’s for another post.