New orders usually take time

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“And it ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them.”

Nicolo Machiavelli, “The Prince,” c.1505.

One wonders whether President Barack Obama, a thoughtful and well-educated man, ever read those particular lines.

Had he done so, he might have thought twice about introducing his thousand-page plan for reforming health care in the United States.

Few argue that the American health care system is just fine as is. Compared to other developed nations, our system is expensive and inefficient. It’s as if, at a time when the rest of the world is whizzing around in Toyota Priuses, we’re still clanking along in Yugos, Chevy Vegas and AMC Pacers.

To the president, and to the men and women who advise him, it must all seem so simple.

Study the existing system, figure out a better one and execute.

That works fine if you’re working for General Mills and want to roll out a new cereal. Your competitors might worry, but they’re used to the present order of things. If your cereal is a big hit, they’ll introduce a copycat product.

Your customers, be they grocery chains or the end purchaser, will be perfectly happy to see your new offering, as will the media in which you advertise, the agencies that will create the new ad campaign, the farmers who grow the grain, etc. etc.

You’re not disturbing the system, but working within it.

That’s even true of disruptive technologies (e.g., the Internet, cell phones, computers and compact disks). Thousands of companies are born and thousands might die through such innovations — but that’s the nature of competitive capitalism. In an entrepreneurial world, new technologies are like lightning storms atop 14ers. You expect them, you deal with them and you hope you don’t get hit.

But massive government-mandated health care reform is different. The system might be inefficient and wasteful, but it employs many millions of Americans and treats hundreds of millions.

Remember “Hillarycare”? The Clintons’ ambitious proposal foundered for the same reasons that its new political incarnation might founder 17 years later.

Whether we engage the system as a provider or as a patient, most of us don’t know how radical change might affect us. One person’s “waste and inefficiency” might be another person’s job.

“Better and more affordable” access to health care might mean long waits and harried, indifferent providers, for all we know.

Have you read all 1,000 pages? We haven’t.

Do you believe what plan’s proponents say or what opponents claim? We don’t — and we doubt whether either group knows what they’re talking about.

Just as Machiavelli predicted, we support health care reform in principle, but we’re at best weakly supportive of the present scheme.

We’d prefer that the president and Congress take their time and come up with something simpler, more transparent and more understandable.

We applaud the president for his energy and for his willingness to move forward simultaneously on multiple fronts, but we’d suggest that he take a breather, kick back and spend some time relaxing with a good book:

“The Prince.”