Monday, January 08, 2007


The Sinking of the Tyrannic

This is a fable. I just made it up. It's about California politics, particularly the Governor's plan to provide health insurance for the children. He won't ask for a tax increase, you see, and to pay for the insurance he's going to take some benefits away from people on welfare.

The mighty cruise ship Tyrannic carries 2000 passengers and 20 lifeboats for the passengers. Each lifeboat is big enough to hold 100 adults without capsizing. However, some of the lifeboats are equipped with comfortable seats and wet bars and other amenities for the first class passengers. There are 200 first class passengers and each first class life boat will comfortably accommodate 40 adults. Five of the lifeboats are equipped for the first class passengers; the other 15 are equipped for the second class passengers.

The Tyrannic has struck an iceberg and is sinking. The Captain, Arnulf Svartberg, directs the first class passengers to the first class lifeboats and directs his first mate, Hans Gjarneman, to direct the second class passengers, all 1800 of them, to the second class lifeboats. Hans points out that there are only 15 boats for 1800 people. In order to accommodate everyone, he will have to put 120 people in each lifeboat. He states that the extra weight will almost certainly capsize the lifeboats.

He suggests that 1500 passengers be assigned to the 15 available lifeboats and that the other 300 be assigned to the five first class lifeboats. It would be necessary to remove the wet bars and some of the comfortable seats to make room for the extra occupants, but the result would be that each of the 20 lifeboats would contain one hundred individuals and all of them would then float and all passengers would be saved. Another ship was on the way but would not arrive for several hours.

Captain Gjarneman demurs. He says that it would be very bad business for the cruise line to crowd the extra passengers in among the first class passengers. If word of such a thing got out, wealthy people would no longer book cruises on the line but would travel on other ships. His solution is to assign just the women and children to the 15 lifeboats. The persons left out would all be men. They would be given life jackets so that they would float and not drown immediately in the cold water.

The captain's word is law at sea. 300 men are given life jackets. The other 1500 second class passengers are directed into lifeboats. The 20 lifeboats are lowered to the sea. The 300 men with life jackets jump into the water. The ship sinks. The water is cold, one degree above freezing. By the time the rescue ship arrives, the 300 men in life jackets are still floating, but they've all died from hypothermia.

To relate this fable to our Governor's proposed fix to the health care crisis, the first class passengers on the Tyrannic correspond to the millionaires and wealthy businessmen of California who, the Governor fears, will close their businesses and leave the State if they are asked to pay a bit more in income tax. The uninsured children and the people on welfare correspond to the 1500 second class passengers. The Governor decides which group of residents is the least influential, either politically or economically, and lets them swim or freeze on their own. Children command a bigger voting constituency than families on welfare. In any case, he refuses to disturb the first-class residents.

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