Jewish World Review Jan. 19, 2011 / 14 Shevat, 5771
On Rule by Experts, or: The New Barbarism
By Paul Greenberg
Buried in the mass of directives issued by the new head of the
It's not just that the new provision was issued without the approval of
Dr. Berwick's was a recess appointment, which means he didn't have to subject his record to the kind of scrutiny other presidential appointees get. So his views didn't attract much public attention until he had taken office and started issuing edicts like this one. Call it a stealth regulation from a stealth appointee.
"I cannot believe that the individual health care consumer can enforce through choice the proper configurations of a system as massive and complex as health care. That is for leaders to do."
"Indeed, the Holy Grail of universal coverage in
"A progressive policy regime will control and rationalize financing -- control supply."
"Young doctors and nurses should emerge from training understanding the values of standardization and the risks of too great an emphasis on individual autonomy."
The emphasis in all these statements is certainly not Dr. Berwick's. Indeed, by avoiding confirmation hearings, he avoided emphasizing any of his views. Just as he kept this new
Anyone reading Dr. Berwick's statements has to be struck by his pervasive suspicion of individual autonomy and his enthusiasm for rule by experts like himself. (Patients just get in the way.) He seems oblivious to the oxymoron inherent in the concept, rational collective action. A mob, after all, is a collective, but that scarcely makes it rational. The doctor slips into euphemism by habit, preferring to control supply rather than ration health care, which is what controlling its supply amounts to.
Dr. Berwick is representative of the Culture of Expertise that abhors individual choice (irrational!) and so would turn over such decisions to an elite of experts. He sounds like the very embodiment of the new paternalism that comes with a populist gloss.
Ortega y Gassett, the Spanish philosopher, essayist and thinker in general, saw all this coming. He called it the barbarism of specialization, and Dr. Berwick's specialty is medical cost-accounting. He is all too typical of a whole bureaucratic class. This species of barbarian has a title on the door, graduated from an
As for the elite that
Those of us who would prefer to make our own decisions, thank you, only disturb Dr. Berwick's well-ordered, efficient, standardized, rationalized, collectivized and above all impersonal system. His statistical sanitarium is geared to treat the average patient, who doesn't exist. At least I've never met him, any more than I've met that other abstract concept, the average man. Have you?
With Dr. Berwick, it's the numbers that count, not the kind of values that cannot be quantified, however real. Like life itself. There was something neither humane nor human about his turgid new directive. The good doctor is the very model of modern man in that respect, believing that what matters is the system, not the individual. And like modern man, he can be frightening to behold.
JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.
if (strpos(, "printer_friendly") === 0)
=<< © 2010 Tribune Media Services, Inc.
© 2010 Tribune Media Services, Inc.