Monday, December 20, 2004

Column on the Cost of Risk-taking

Footing the Bill for Risk Takers

Tibor R. Machan

Waiting for the feature film to come on the screen, I sat through
innumerable ads. (These days one no longer can go to the movies to get
away from them and then one must also payÂ?so I rarely go.) One of these
featured a surfer who proudly announced that heÂ?s broken his foot several
times, as well as injuring his knees and his back. He seemed rather
pleased with himself for all this, smiling as he made his confession.

Or at least is should have been a confession. For years from now, when he
will be old, he will have innumerable medical problems as a result of all
this risky play. My own mother, who was a vigorous athlete from age
14thÂ?she fenced and swam and skiedÂ?now, at 85, is feeling pain in her
lower extremities and frankly blames it on her early athletic prowess (and
on my father, another fanatic, who forced her into much of thisÂ?he was her
coach from age 14 on).

But, of course, in the wonderful welfare state in which we live there is
nothing much to regret. Not only will everyone be taken care of by various
state and federal "insurance" programsÂ?all of them coercive wealth
redistribution schemes without any means testingÂ?but perhaps by then all
the sports equipment manufacturers and athletic clubs, maybe even
university athletic departmentsÂ?will be ripe for massive law suits by the
government to pay up for all the ailing old folks who will need to be
taken care of. (This will be required, given that the state coffers will
soon be bankrupt from all this Â?freeÂ? medical service everyone has a
Â?basic rightÂ? to.)

This is indeed the consequence of collectivismÂ?we are all in the same
boat, whether or not we individually chose to be in it. If you do not
engage in risky behavior and thus spare yourself from injury and later
innumerable trips to the doctor, it is almost irrelevant. Funds will still
be extorted from you so as to take care of the ailments of your fellows.

The precedent for this is set in law and public policy now. People who
smoked for decadesÂ?with the warning labels starting them in the face and
the news about tobacco being bad for you all around (I knew it back in
Hungary in the 1950s)Â?could not only win huge legal judgments in their or
their kinÂ?s favor but their medical costs, covered by the states, were
used as grounds for bilking the tobacco firms out of billions of dollars.
Now the targets are the various food producers, who are allegedly making
us all fat and causing all the medical expenses related to obesity. And
the gun manufacturers are constantly fending off the lawyers these daysÂ?in
TV dramas and at the movies they are losing the legal battles more and
more frequently.

Reality is sure to follow soon, given the incredible legal-cultural
climate in which individual responsibility is dead, except when it comes
to corporate executives who are, of course, responsible for every bad
thing, including inclement weather and huge icebergs blocking penguins
from their food. (I will never understand how the major media never, ever
focus on this rank inconsistencyÂ?we are all victims, but people in
business never are. Maybe they were brainwashed at the Harvard Business

Alas, asking for coherence or consistency in these matters is probably
futile, what with so many vested interests lined up to get in on the game.
Sometimes I wonder what if the people who ran the Auschwitz or Dachau
death camps had themselves some competent lobbyists they might have kept
their jobs since, well, they had a right to job security, didnÂ?t they?
Sure, their Â?public serviceÂ? was so transparently vicious to the rest of
humanity that this wouldnÂ?t have worked well, but with the lesser evils
done by our bureaucrats, they can insist that aiding along the petty
tyrannies of the welfare state should never be interrupted.

Anyway, I just wish the folks who make a mess of their livesÂ?and if I do,
that should include meÂ?wouldnÂ?t get the chance to dump the cost of it all
on the rest of us.

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