Friday, May 02, 2008

Egalitarianism Redux

Tibor R. Machan

Just to demonstrate that there is but little difference between Democrats and Republicans, President George W. Bush plans to sign a piece of legislation that aims to deny certain unavoidable facts of reality so as to satisfy the sentiment of fairness. As reported by Amy Harmon in the May 2nd issue of The New York Times, “Democrats and Republicans alike cited anecdotes and polls illustrating that people feel they should not be penalized because they happened to be born at higher risk for a given disease.” So, we are told by Representative Louise M. Slaughter, Democrat of New York, who first proposed the legislation, that “People know we all have bad genes, and we are all potential victims of genetic discrimination.” The measure passed the House on Thursday 414-to-1 and in the Senate 95-to-0 the week before.

Just to be clear what this means, insurance companies will be prohibited from taking into considerations their clients’ potential for illness when they sell them a policy. They must pluck out their eyes and ears and numb their brains and pretend that everyone is risk free, thus proceed to waste the resources of their owners, the investors and shareholders who have decided to earn some income from underwriting policies for clients who want to insure themselves.

Genetics is, of course, a crucial fact of life and health is by no means the only feature of it that it influences. For example, genetics pretty much determines one’s height, eye color, and many other physical attributes, not the least of which is one’s aesthetic--and, yes, sex--appeal. Yes, to a very large extent genetic differences influence who is going to appeal to whom, sexually, even romantically. That famous “chemistry” that so many folks care about and which figures so heavily in the match making industry is mostly determined by people’s genes.

If the bipartisan legislation that the president intends to sign into law makes sense, then surely it should immediately be followed by legislation that prohibits us all from considering the looks of our dates and potential mates. The law might begin by banning the use of photographs on all those Internet dating sites
Indeed, the law ought to follow the egalitarian spirit of that famous Kurt Vonnegut’s play, “Harrison Bergeron,” in which differences of physical appearance are all abolished. And it should make us all get used to abandoning considerations of looks and other favorable differences between people from the earliest age. Parents must be penalized for being delighted when their babies look cute! Certainly all beauty contest must be forbidden. Modeling must certainly be banned. Casting directors in Hollywood must not consider the appearance of the actors and actresses they select to play parts in movies.

But we can all go beyond this. For example, all books must have the same cover as they are sold in bookstores or on line. Reviewers must avoid mentioning the qualities of the books or movies they review since this can definitely lead to selectivity from potential readers or viewers, something that promotes that insidious practice of differentiation.

None of this is to say that those with inherited medical disadvantages should not attempt to find good deals in the insurance market or that insurance companies should not find some way to ease their burdens. In a genuine free market of health care that would be a natural development. What it does make evident is that trying to use the law and government to deny facts of reality is absurd. Throughout nature there are differences; the same is true of human societies.

The late and brilliant Murray N. Rothbard, with whom I do not always agree, penned a very good book on all this. Perhaps members of Congress ought to be required to read his Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature and Other Essays (1977).

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