Yesterday Matt Yglesias offered a clever analogy for Congress’s proposed jobs bill.
Matt Yglesias, “The Senate’s Underpants Gnome Problem.”
If you think about legislation in a second-order sense, then I think it’s clear that a “bill to increase the number of people who have jobs” would be a very good bill to pass…
But when you think about operationalizing this in a first-order way, you wind up with the same problem as South Park’s famous Underpants Gnomes—how do you actually do it:
And then this morning Paul Krugman somehow had the exact same criticism of the Democrats’ plans for health care legislation.
[Paul Krugman, “The Underpants Gnomes Theory of Reform.”]
Watching some liberal members of the House explain why they won’t do what’s necessary, and pass the Senate bill, I was wondering what they imagine will happen. Then the answer came to me: it’s the Underpants Gnomes business plan. In its original form this was:
1. Collect underpants.
The current version is:
1. Reject the only bill that can be enacted any time soon.
3. Universal coverage!
Krugman reads Yglesias all the time, so this seems like a bit of a coincidence. Of course it could just be that it’s becoming an overused reference that you fall back on if you’re an unimaginative blogger. Ezra Klein used the same South Park sketch to belittle conservatives in June of 2009, and before that Megan McArdle referenced it while discussing the plans for GM.