Saturday, December 01, 2007

Health Fascism on It's Way

Tibor R. Machan

Paul Krugman, Princeton economist and columnist for The New York Times, has no problem with coercing people to do what they'd rather not do. So it's no surprise that he favors the universal health case system advocated by Democratic presidential hopefuls Hilary Clinton and John Edwards. He is worried that under the more modestly coercive system advocated by Barack Obama, "healthy people could choose not to buy insurance--then sign up for it if they developed health problems later." Under this system, argues Professor Krugman, "People who did the right thing and bought insurance when they were healthy would end up subsidizing those who didn't sign up for insurance until or unless they needed medical care." The old free rider problem, nothing very novel at all.

Yet the problem arises only if there is coercion involved in the first place. If not, all those who buy insurance when they are doing well would know that some others would purchase it only once they suspected that they are getting sick. Knowing this, they could still carry on with their risk-aversive policy of buying insurance when they are quite healthy without worrying about whether others may later become free riders. Not everyone frets about free riders. It's a concern mostly of administrators of a system, such as those who manage a health care insurance business. They dedicate themselves to working out such problems, leaving clients to worry about other matters except now and then--for example, when they are shopping for insurance or for politicians who pretend to be able to solve all of our problems for us.

Now once you coerce everyone into a system, everyone is faced with the free rider issue, like it or not. No one is free to just stay out and, as a worst case scenario, fail to be insured when health problems arise. Such people could very well have laid cash aside for such circumstances, so they would quite justifiably not bother with insurance. They could be managing their money well enough to have plenty for health emergency situations. But if the likes of Krugman have their way with us all, they would not be allowed by the national health czars to take risks.

Krugman says that "The whole point of a universal health insurance system is that everyone pays in, even if they're currently healthy, and in return everyone has insurance coverage if and when they need it." Never mind that different folks may have different ideas as to how to go about managing their sickness and health. Never mind that many may choose to handle things in ways not approved of by Professor Krugman. Their choices don't matter, free country or not. What matters is that the utopian ideals, never successfully realized as a workable health care system anywhere in the world, at anytime in human history, be coercively implemented. Once again the imagined perfect becomes the enemy of the realistic good.

Let us not be like Professor Krugman and his cohorts. Let's refuse to believe the mirage of a one-size-fits-all, universal health care system for every American. In a free society the right approach to health care isn't some Platonic ideal but preserving the freedom for each person or family to identify and then shop for what they judge to be sound for them. And if some people refuse to, in a free society they need to live with the consequences. That's a choice free individuals may want to make, be it the right one for them or not.

In a free system there can be untold number of solutions to people's problems, including those they have with their health. Some might even prefer spending what they would under Krugram & Co. be compelled to spend on health insurance on, say, their children's or grand children's education or membership in an sport association or some other objective that they value above securing themselves against health emergencies. We all make such choices all the time, as we drive, travel by air, engage in sports, undertake business ventures and so forth. To insist that no such thing must be permitted when it comes to our management of our health care betrays the mentality of the dictator, the one who knows it all for everyone.

But then Professor Krugman and his pals in the American welfare statist, quasi-socialist movement have been blind to the issue of the evil of compelling people to act as they do not choose to act, so why would they do something else when it comes to health care? You might be able to teach new tricks to olod dogs but to stubborn old dogs very unlikely.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Betrayed via Entitlements

Tibor R. Machan

As people think about public affairs they deploy a variety of criteria by which to evaluate them. Some want to know if a law or policy increases happiness in society; some care about whether it pleases God; some are concerned about whether the policy meets standards of justice.

In the United States of America the official criteria for whether some proposed law or policy passes muster is whether it is constitutional. But that is not the end of it because constitutions can be flawed, as the American one was and arguably continues to be under the influence of highly opinionated Supreme Courts. In the back of the Constitution stands the philosophy sketched in the Declaration of Independence. This is America’s original revolutionary statement of what constitutes of just country. And as anyone can check, there is no mention of increasing happiness or pleasing God. What matters most to the drafters of the Declaration, in line with what they have learned from their study of history and some of the great political thinkers, is whether a country’s laws and public policies fully accord with the principles of individual human rights.

Foremost among these principles is the one about how every human being has unalienable and natural rights to, among others, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This is what make a country just, not how wealthy it is, how equally its resources are shared, how culturally refined it is, how religious are its citizens, how athletic they are or any similar incidental matter. The criteria for political justice, for what makes a country a good one, is whether these basic rights are respected and protected.

Because the American Founders’ ideas and ideals were extremely controversial and unusual, compared to the history of such ideas around the globe, it has been very difficult to get full compliance to the principles of the Declaration. The old governmental habit, of which the Declaration aims to disabuse us all, has strong staying power. People do not easily get used to individual responsibility and, therefore, to respecting individual rights.

Not long after the country got on its way, numerous compromises began to be made with its principles. It was the philosophy of populism or progressivism, especially, that came to corrupt America most. (A wonderful book about this is Richard Epstein’s How the Progressives Rewrote the Constitution [2006].)

This movement, which is still in full force, is best understood as an effort to resurrect the monarchical form of government whereby it is the government that runs everything, owns everything, determines everyone’s primary goals in life, etc., with support for some politically active majority. It is reactionary through and through by virtue of its aim to eradicate individual rights and substitute for those revolutionary principles the nearly absolute rule of the state.

Of course the excuse for taking this path is always some vulnerable group--children, poor, minorities, indigents, disabled, casualties of natural disasters, and so forth. The tactic is to invent a set of entitlements, often also called “rights” (mainly to make them all palatable within the American context of individual rights but completely reversing it at the same time). Whereas the American Founders’ ideas was that each individual has the right to live, act and pursue goals free of other people’s interference--all we need to do is abstain from intruding upon one another and cooperate voluntarily in all our mutual endeavors--the progressives (actually, if truth be told, better called “regressives” claimed that people have a right to be served by others and these others may be subjected to involuntary servitude if the government so decides. The idea that government should protect our freedom was, thus, transformed to mean that government must compel everyone to serve everyone else.

The ultimate result, even in a democracy, is that some people get elevated to rule the rest by decided who needs to provide what service, when, how much of it, and so forth. And that is where we now stand, with but a few voices in the country raising objections to it all. The American revolution has been voided and the king now rules again.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Varieties of “Imperialism”

Tibor R. Machan

Imperialism is the policy one country has toward others when it is intent on ruling them. But these days the idea is also used to point to one country’s efforts to spread ideas and institutions outside of its borders, regardless of what those ideas and institutions are. So by some people’s account—evident often in the pages of The New York Review of Books, The Nation, and so forth, for example—whether one country aims to impose a system of slavery or servitude on others versus a system of liberty and the rule of law, the mere intent to spread any idea or institution beyond one’s borders qualifies as imperialist.

Yet consider this: Suppose your neighbor is brutalizing his or her spouse or children and you go into the home and rescue the victims. Are you imposing your will on your neighbor? Are you engaging in the building of some sort of empire of your own? Or are you perhaps merely liberating the victims, saving them from the violence to which they are being subjected? Suppose once you have made sure that the victims are no longer being brutalized, you quickly leave and have nothing more to do with how your neighbors live? Is this an interventionist, aggressive approach toward your neighbor?

In contrast, suppose you have a neighbor who happens to have some very fine china in the house and you decide to intrude and take the china for yourself. Moreover you make it clear that should your neighbor obtain other valued items that please you, you will not hesitate to come over and take them as well. And you will, furthermore, henceforth force your neighbor to do chores for you—clean your garage, mow your lawn, etc.

In both instances you are meddling in your neighbor’s affairs. Your approach to your neighbor can be deemed interventionist. But the quality of intervention differs drastically in the two cases.

The same can be said of the foreign policies of different countries that embark upon interventionism. Indeed, calling both “imperialistic” is highly misleading since in the one case the objective is to force the other country to yield to the other’s oppression, to deprive the other of what the imperial power has no right to whatsoever, while in the other case the objective is to export elements of public policy that are liberating for the population.

Of course, in many historical instances there is a mixture of these two forms of intervention. When the United States of America interferes abroad, not only does it routinely attempt to export some of its highly desirable, just principles and institutions; it also tries to secure some advantages that can be obtained. We hear this a lot when people talk about oil and other resources. Never mind that even in the case of trying to obtain such benefits as oil, a study of the relevant history often reveals that the oil abroad was actually discovered and its refinement cultivated by American or other foreign companies, so claiming flatly, as Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and other governments which have nationalized oil companies have done, that the resource belongs to the people there is open to serious doubt.

So the description of a country’s foreign policy as imperialistic or interventionist does not suffice to end the discussion of whether that policy should be approved. But there is another element to even the most benign form of intervention (or even imperialism) that needs to be kept in mind as one considers whether such policies have any merit. This is that government’s of free countries are not supposed to run around the globe rectifying all the wrongs outside their borders. Even when a country’s government intervenes so as to liberate the people in a corrupt or oppressive regime, even if this is done without embarking on seeking various advantages for the country but merely to do some good over there, there is still the objection to interventionism that such a policy in effect involves a government’s leaving its post, as it were. As the American Founders noted, “to secure these rights [namely, the rights of the country’s citizens], governments are instituted among men….” This is an obligation of the government of a free society and embarking on various foreign adventures, however well motivated, is in effect the violation of the oath of office of government.

This is not the same issue as whether the government is imperialist in its foreign policy. But it is a woefully neglected point in most discussions about foreign affairs. It would be vital to keep the point in mind even as one has to admit that there are very different types of intervention--“imperialism”—that a country’s government can engage in and that not all of them are of the same quality.