I have a good friend, who’s a very smart and very well-educated person, indisputably better educated than I am. And yet he sometimes makes the most nonsensical arguments.
Example 1: Cell Phones are Worse than Landlines.
My friend likes to complain about how crappy his cell phone service is. Every time a call gets dropped he goes on his well-polished rant about how we used to have this perfectly good technology that always worked, then we went and replaced it with this crappy technology that so often doesn’t work well. After the third time hearing it, I realized it wasn’t just overwrought frustration with dropped calls, but that he really believed landline technology wa superior. So I asked him why he didn’t get rid of his cell phone and install a landline. I also pointed out that of course landlines don’t work all the time–they don’t work when you’re in your car, away on vacation, at a conference, out to lunch with friends, etc. (Although, admittedly, some of those non-working moments might be a point in land-line’s favor.
Here’s the kicker. He actually understands the concept of revealed preference. And yet he had never connected it to his choice of phone service.
Example 2: National Health Care Service Is Great Because You Get all the Medical Care You Want for Free
My friend loves Europe. Politically he is very much more at home in Europe than in the U.S., and he much prefers European cities and culture to American cities and culture. That’s just background, and I have no problem with it; subjective preferences and all that. So he spent a year in Europe and loved his country’s national health care system because it meant he got all the medical care he wanted for free. When I suggested that maybe this was part of the problem national health care systems face, his response was, yeah, yeah, yeah, I don’t care, I didn’t have to pay for my health care.
He gets that “free” (e.g., no point-of-use payments) encourages overuse, which makes sustaining the system problematic. He gets that he is part of the problem. But it doesn’t matter because it’s how he really really wants it to be. He is, in fact, perfectly happy to have the costs entirely hidden from him through taxes, even if it means he actually spends more, because then he gets to enjoy the feeling of not having to pay for his medical care. That may actually be rational, but it’s still nonsense.