Last night, Pete Buttigieg appeared on Rachel Maddow’s program to deny what, incredibly, has become for the moment the most incendiary charge against his candidacy: As a young McKinsey employee, his clients included BlueCross BlueShield of Michigan, which undertook a round of layoffs a couple years after he filed an analysis. Buttigieg dutifully denied having played any role in the company’s plans to reduce its workforce:
The timing of Buttigieg’s work does seem to imply that it did not lead to layoffs. But the idea that this is even an accusation is deeply weird.
Maximum employment is a valuable goal, and most of us feel bad on a human level for any person who loses their job. If you believe in capitalism (as Buttigieg, a liberal, certainly does) then you accept the need for churn in the labor market, as the economy innovates and the composition of the workforce changes. Socialists are much more skeptical of labor-market churn than liberals are, but even socialists tend to treat certain categories of employment as net negatives for society. Any left-wing program would eliminate jobs in fields like coal mining, oil drilling, and finance.
Private health insurance is definitely in the negative social value category. The left-wing line on private insurance is that it is (to quote Bernie Sanders) “an incredibly wasteful, bureaucratic, profit-making and complicated system”. The charge against Buttigieg is that he played a role in making that incredibly wasteful, bureaucratic, profit-making system slightly less wasteful.
To be sure, it’s not as if he was hired to reduce waste for the purpose of clearing out room to make coverage more generous. That said, if we’re going to work within a system that has private health insurance as a component, why is it better for that system to be bloated rather than lean? More jobs in the private insurance industry means more costs to health consumers, and also means more political opposition not only to single-payer insurance but also to more modest reform like the public plan Buttigieg supports.
The logic of the Democratic field has had two stable figures, Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, holding down the party’s left flank and absorbing steady fire from the center. The center-left vote has been dominated by Joe Biden, who all sides have assumed, so far erroneously, is bound to collapse. Any center-left candidate who has shown signs of emerging with a chance to consolidate the center of the Democratic Party has therefore become the subject of withering scrutiny on the left with whatever evidence is on hand at the moment. Kamala Harris was a cop; Beto O’Rourke stood on tables like a monster. Now Buttigieg may have played a role in destroying precious jobs in an industry the left wants to do away with altogether.
Buttigieg also did consulting work for, among other clients, the Defense Department. What if he was complicit in cutting costs at the Pentagon? The scandal!