Those are EJ Dionne’s words, not mine (though I agree with them). “Staggeringly complex”. Yes, Obamacare is staggeringly complex. The actions of 300 million Americans are staggeringly complex, and the way that state health care laws and regulations interact with each other are staggeringly complex. Probably impossibly complex. EJ, do you even understand what “staggeringly complex” means?

Here’s his statement in full, from about the middle of the article: “Needless to say, the federal government wasn’t ready for this staggeringly complex task.” Oh, you don’t say? Probably nobody is ready for the task. No businesses are – as evidenced by the fact that they’ve never tried. There are laws and regulations and market considerations (namely not hemorrhaging money in the process of providing insurance) that all have to be simultaneously solved for (more on this later). To call it staggeringly complex is probably an understatement. Yet, the same Federal government that can’t pass a budget (even an un-balanced one) on time is supposed to be able to solve this “staggeringly complex” task? EJ Dionne…

Later he says this:

Let’s imagine what a functioning political system would do now. First, we’d fix the site. Beshear and other governors are showing that the law can get the job done.

Uh no, EJ, the governors are showing that STATES can get the job done, not “the law” and not the Feds. One state. Not fifty simultaneously interacting. There’s a big difference.

In the physical sciences and engineering, one often has to solve simultaneously non-linear equations. I had to solve many in the course of getting my PhD, both as problem sets for classes and as part of the work that went into my thesis. There is a “staggeringly” big difference between solving a set of X simultaneous non-linear equations and solving a set of Y simultaneously non-linear equations. If X is a subset of Y (that is, all of the equations of Y are also equations of X) how many more equations does Y have to have before it becomes unsolvable? That’s a great question and in general, nobody knows. It could be no more than 1. That is, while it might be possible to solve 5 simultaneous non-linear equations, the 6th one that you add might render the problem unsolvable. Or, you might be able to go to 5000 before it becomes unsolvable. It’s complicated and it’s generally unknowable in advance. If each state represents and equation, then we have in the Obamacare problem a set of 50 coupled simultaneous non-linear equations. A solution to the 1 state problem does not imply a solution to the 50 state coupled problem. EJ Dionne…..

Complexity is complex. Here and here.

-JD Cross