Resistant To Change

by Patrick Appel

Brayden King sums up Surowieki's New Yorker article on Obama's flat health care sales pitch:

The big problem with health care reform, as Surowiecki sees it, is that its proponents framed the reform as an attempt to cut costs. This framing automatically invoked the loss aversion biases of the general public. It didn’t help that reform opponents latched on to the bias and have milked it for all its worth.

Health care has been Obama's worst sales job yet. His pitch feels almost romney-esque; it has been focus grouped so finely that individual words have been put into approved or forbidden columns.The administration has morphed into a team of academics while the opposition has gained the emotional upper-hand. Their currency is rage, not hope, but the intensity reminds me of Obama's campaign crowds.

In his excellent new book (and also on his blog) Jonah Lehrer discusses a study where test subjects were either shown a picture of an impoverished African child or were told terrible statistics about the living conditions of individuals much like that child. The test subjects were then asked how much they would donate to charitable causes. Researchers found that those who had been shown the picture gave around fifty percent more. Rationally, those who understood the full extent of the suffering should have been inspired to give the most, but that is not how we are programmed. Numbers do not activate the emotional centers of our brains. Talking only about statistics and numbers neglects the sort of stories Dish readers have been sharing, stories that illuminate the failings of the health care system and make them real in a way no numerical argument can.