Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sad Times in America

Tibor R. Machan

Graig Furgeson, the late late-night host on CBS-TV, makes a little remark each weekday night to the effect, "It's a great day for America." I don't really get it, I confess, since if it were a great day for America each day, regardless of the details, it would be pretty meaningless to say so. But these days it is especially ridiculous to make such a claim. (I have taken the show off my automatic record instructions on my TiVo because of this, actually, and because I really don't much like TV these days other than for a few shows and movies.)

As someone who immigrated here from a communist country where health care was deemed a free good, and a free entitlement and where the system went bankrupt eventually so no one had anything to show for all the promises made, I find it scandalous that this myth of health care as a right--as if health care professionals could all be drafted harmlessly into involuntary servitude to us all--has managed to survive and even grow. Yes, it might be a swell thing if what we want in life could be obtained free of charge, if everyone could work to produce all the goods and services wanted from them at no cost to anyone, if dreams and fantasies were reality but, come to think of it, I am not sure this is even a desirable fantasy. It has certainly been a horrible reality wherever it has been attempted since it means, in practice, that both goods and services promised at no charge to the vast numbers who apparently actually believe it could happen will in time run out for everyone except the most clever of us, the ones who can game the system for a little while.

Many moons ago, when I was going to graduate school in California, a new welfare measure was instituted with the announced intention of wanting to help out the poor and disadvantaged who wish to get a graduate degree. No sooner was the program announced and set into motion, it became evident that only the smart and already reasonably well healed will gain from it--means testing had been declared illegal, so there was no way to tell who really might need the help and could make good use of it versus all those who would just try to cash in on a new entitlement that they could obtain at other people's expense. It was a clear case of socialism at work--promise to benefit all who had a need but put up with the fact that the resources will be squandered in a classic instance of the tragedy of the commons.

Of course, complaining about the forthcoming health care-health insurance entitlement system as if it were the first step on the way to socialism--which is how Utah's Republican Senator Orin Hatch characterized it--is absurd. From its beginning America had various welfare measures which, however, hadn't done immediate damage other than establish the precedence so objections to such measures could not be made on principle any longer. But the trend has been on the rise all along.

The realistic promise that America initially offered, in the terms sketched in the Declaration of Independence--namely, that everyone would be free to work hard for the values that make life possible and flourish--seems to be dying and along with it the optimistic outlook on the world's future, which is slowly disappearing except in some spots where the principles America was founded upon are beginning to be taken seriously. Frankly, it won't matter much to me directly now--I am getting a tad old--but my children and grandchildren will have to cope with the misery of it all.

What I am hoping is that they will be clever and prudent enough to deal with the mess that's coming down the pike until things turn around again sometime but certainly many will not be able to do so and that's going to be what all this phony socialist, "progressive" politicking will have wrought.

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