August 31, 2009

Terry Anderson's simplistic arguments

Lawyer Matthew L.M. Fletcher notes the editorial style of free-market advocate Terry Anderson. His comments apply to many conservative pundits who denounce Indian country and Indian policies.

Emotionally Potent Oversimplification of the Day:  Terry Anderson on the Indian Health ServiceIt’s usually a syllogism, repeating oversimplifications about Indian affairs again and again. For example, the one about Indian trust lands that gets noticed in the NYTs:

1. The United States owns all Indian lands.
2. Indians are poor.
2a. Quote/story from Indians angry at government.
3. Therefore, get rid of U.S. trust responsibility.

And the WSJ editorial (above), an obvious attack on the Obama health plan, unsurprising from a free market advocate:

1. IHS handles Indian health.
2. Indians are unhealthy.
3. Get rid of IHS.

Terry gets published in very respectful journals (Journal of Law & Econ., for example), but the work (despite the regressive analyses) seems a little superficial to someone with roots in Indian Country. He wrote on tribal courts a few years back, attempting to refute the Cornell/Kalt theory that tribal courts help to develop tribal economies:

1. Tribal courts have increasing jurisdiction over Indian Country commercial disputes.
2. Indians remain poor.
3. Get rid of tribal court jurisdiction.
Comment:  These are great examples of what passes for "analyses" of Indian policies among conservatives. Imagine if we applied the same "logic" to the federal government:

1. Our intelligence services warn us of terrorist threats.
2. 9/11 happened.
3. We should get rid of our intelligence services.


1. Congress is supposed to pass a balanced budget.
2. Congress rarely if ever passes a balanced budget.
3. We should get rid of Congress.

In short, it's stupid to hit a problem over the head with a sledgehammer when you're not sure what the problem is. There's no necessary causality between statements such as "IHS handles Indian health" and "Indians are unhealthy." Maybe something else is causing Indians to be unhealthy. Maybe they'd be even more unhealthy if private companies handled their health. You can't assume a linkage; you have to prove it.

For some previous mentions of Anderson's work, see:

Indians are poor because of "dependence on federal money"
Tierney:  Federal bureaucracies caused Indians' downfall
Kay:  Indians are preserving "hunter-gatherer traditions"

For more on the healthcare debate, see Healthcare Protests Are Race-Based and IHS = Model for Healthcare.

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