Prisoner's dilemma

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Dan Drezner has a great post:

There have been two problems from the beginning with the proposed rescue plan.  First, it was labeled a bailout, which is a really, really bad public opinion frame
(Let me add that neither presidential candidate has helped.  McCain's
interventions seem to have bolstered the House Republicans who said no;
Obama's frame of Wall Street vs. Main Street made it easy for voters to
believe that a financial meltdown would not affect them in the
slightest. 

Second, the idea of the package was to prevent a financial
mewltdown.  But here's the thing -- no one gets credit for stopping a
meltdown if it doesn't happen.  To use a security analogy,
think about what would have happened if either the Bush or Clinton
administrations had killed the leadership of Al Qaeda and the Taliban
prior to June of 2001.  Even if they had claimed that they were foiling
a terrorist plot against the United States, no one would have known
about it, and it would have been pretty easy to attack either
administration for belligerent unilateralism.  In other words, it was
only after 9/11 that the American public was ready to take the actions
that would have prevented 9/11. 

I'm wondering if ther same thing will happen now.  If the public, or
House members, sees how Wall Street is reacting to what they are doing,
they might have time to change their mind (I'm not sure how long the
vote will stay open).  Will the evidence of a meltdown be sufficient
cover for politicians to do what they have to do?  Or will the meltdown
be sufficiently melt-y to make government intervention futile by that
point? 

You might see several members who were opposed to the bailout financial rescue before they were in favor of it.

I think Aesop described the problem rather well:

Once upon a time all the Mice met together in Council, and discussed the best means of securing themselves against the attacks of the cat. After several suggestions had been debated, a Mouse of some standing and experience got up and said, "I think I have hit upon a plan which will ensure our safety in the future, provided you approve and carry it out. It is that we should fasten a bell round the neck of our enemy the cat, which will by its tinkling warn us of her approach." This proposal was warmly applauded, and it had been already decided to adopt it, when an old Mouse got upon his feet and said, "I agree with you all that the plan before us is an admirable one: but may I ask who is going to bell the cat?"

Or as Grandma used to say, "Everyone wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die."  12 congressmen need to switch their votes.  But whoever does will suffer mightily not merely for voting for the hated bill, but for having flip-flopped.  If the bill passes, and nothing bad happens, people will blame those congresscritters even worse than their fellows.  And from what I understand, the people who voted no tend to be people facing competitive races in November.

Diogenes spent a lifetime searching for one honest man.  Where are we supposed to find 12?

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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