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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Conservatives Refute Butler/Heritage Revisionism

@gregvarner points me to a new article at Forbes where Avik Roy tries in vain to find a reference to the individual mandate before the Heritage Foundation, specifically Stuart Butler, started publishing research on it in 1989. Citing the same 1989 lecture I did (and Krugman before me) in my last post, Roy concludes:
Based on my research, I see no contravening evidence to the claim that Stuart Butler and Heritage were the first people to advocate the individual mandate, in the context of a private-sector health-care system.
Roy is at pains to say that Heritage and Butler are now right to oppose the individual mandate, but nowhere does he give any evidence that they changed their minds on it prior to President Obama's election. Unless he (or Butler) give such evidence, it will be hard to take seriously the claim that the "change of heart" isn't merely political opportunism.

As I mentioned in my last post, you can't give a lecture on something without previously researching it, and Roy gives an update linking to James Taranto at the Wall Street Journal, who also isn't buying "Butler's claim of unoriginality," and who finds the research piece that preceded the lecture. "A National Health System for America," edited by Butler and Edmund Haislmaier, is a major 140-page research document. Although it is dated on the Heritage website as January 2, 1989, as Taranto says the Washington Post news story about the book states it was released June 1 of that year (which I verified using the Nexis subscription service). What Taranto does not notice is that this document is clearly labeled on its cover "Revised Edition." This could well push the original version and the original research back into 1988 or earlier.

Not only that, Taranto finds multiple elements of the Affordable Care Act in the research monograph, including its enforcement mechanism.

To Heritage's credit, it has not scrubbed its website of either the lecture or the research document, but the fact remains that these documents appear to be the ultimate source of the individual mandate. Butler has yet to cite another source or acknowledge that he was working on it in the 1980s, not just the 1990s. As Taranto concludes in Butler's case, "Acknowledging error is a sign of integrity, but you have to be truthful about it." Amen to that.

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