Thursday, February 25, 2010

How about them Philosophical Differences?

Tibor R. Machan

President Obama and others at the summit Thursday (2/25/10) kept talking about philosophical difference between his team and the Republicans but what did they have in mind?

By "philosophical" most mean "basic," or "fundamental." Possibly "systemic" could also be meant. Bottom line is that believing in an extensive role of the federal government in determining the health care requirements of American citizens differs from believing in an extensive role by individuals and their providers doing so. The president is right, however, to point out that it is now too late for any Republican to beef about heavy federal involvement in medical care and insurance, given that the Food and Drug Administration has been around for many decades and Medicare is also a near fixture on the American scene, not to mention the vast amount of government regulations, federal, state, municipal, we have in our mixed economy. So any Republican who complains about extensive federal involvement is way too late--we already have it in place, now it is just about how much more of such involvement should be accepted.

There is another philosophical issue that's hovering around the debates and that is about whether everyone in American must have nearly equal coverage and care. Republicans keep trying to resist this objective for a variety of reasons, including the enormous expense it is projected to involve; the huge differences between different (groups of) American citizens for whom no one-size-fits-all health care and insurance approach will work; the differential burdens such a system will create for Americans, with the young carrying the bulk of it and the old the benefits, and so forth. So it doesn't look like Obama's full egalitarian agenda has a chance, not if practical considerations matter in the decisions that will be reached.

On the other hand, the rhetoric of equal provisions for everyone--whether with or without pre-existing conditions, whether prudent or imprudent in their health management, whether fortunate or not as to vulnerability to ailments--is difficult if not impossible for Republicans to rebut. They have no philosophical equipment with which to respond to this egalitarian pitch, so they just have to swallow when the president's team brings up how unacceptable it is when an insurance company considers pre-existing conditions as disqualifying someone for insurance. Of course any responsible insurance company management would take that into consideration! It may be lamentable but there is nothing unjust or morally objectionable about this. To maintain otherwise is to deny the insurers their basic right to choose with whom they want to do business and to pursue a profitable enterprise rather than a losing one, etc.

But in order to present this kind of point, one must drop all the hand wringing about what is admittedly lamentable but cannot be helped. People who have been sick, especially with chronic ailments, are not a good risk to insure and those who want to make a living by selling insurance will tend to avoid doing business with them. And that is, really, their basic right in a free society unless they present themselves in the market place as not concerned with the issue, as open for anyone's business regardless of pre-existing conditions. But to force the insurers to do business with anyone, never mind their own terms of prudence, is wrong and should not be proposed in a free country however nice it would be to help everyone.

But Republicans are philosophically disarmed from making this point, especially from making it insistently, emphatically, because the Obama team is ready to pounce on them as being mean and nasty if they do. And Republicans are ill equipped, philosophically--that is to way, when it comes to their basic principles--to keep insisting. For them to do so they would have to return to the founding principles of the American republic, to mentioning individual rights and so forth. But then, of course, Obama and his team could point fingers at them for being inconsistent, for lacking integrity, seeing how they have accepted a great many egalitarian government edicts, regulations, policies over the the decades.

The little commitment to individual liberty and free market transactions left within the ranks of Republicans just isn't going to give them intellectual--philosophical--leverage against a clever bunch of egalitarians.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Peddling the Corruption of Liberty

Tibor R. Machan

Ever since the idea of individual liberty has achieved some measure of credibility over the world, those who would be unseated by its limited triumph had to find some way to discredit it or trump it somehow. One way was to re-christen servitude, to make it appear like an even more important kind of liberty than what individual liberty, properly understood, amounts to.

When a human being is free in the most important, political sense, he or she is sovereign. This means that one governs one’s own life—others must refrain from intruding on this life, plain and simple. That life may be fortunate or not, rich or not, beautiful or not, and many other things or not, but what matters is that that life is no one else’s to mess with. One gets to run it, no one else does.

Now this is a very uncomfortable idea for all those folks who see all kinds of benefits from running other people’s lives. But they cannot champion this now in so many words, what with individual liberty having gained solid enough standing, so the only way to remedy matters for them is to claim that their oppression brings even greater freedom to people than the respect and protection of individual liberty.

So, we have the kind of “freedoms” propounded by Franklin D. Roosevelt, the freedoms now dubbed “positive.” These freedoms do not get rid of those who would use you, interfere with you, invade your life, rob, kill, or assault you but promise, to the contrary, to take good care of you without your having to do much by invading others, by violating their individual liberties. These are the entitlement rights offered up by proponents of the welfare state, all those who claim that government is best when it is generous, when it becomes the Nanny State—meaning, when it enslaves Peter to serve Paul.

I am not sure about what exactly motivates this ruse—some of it is surely the thirst for power. When you want to enslave people, promise them a special kind of liberty. Castro managed to win over millions of Cubans this way, as did other Marxists in Eastern Europe and in Latin America.

Maybe a few folks actually honestly believed that this kind of political alternative is best for us all, but it is difficult to imagine what would persuade them of such a fraudulent notion. Giving people this positive freedom must always involve depriving other people of their individual liberty, their “negative” freedom, which is to say, their sovereignty and their freedom from having others interfere with their lives, from depriving them of their resources and labor and regulating them to the hilt.

Now, there is little that can be done about this in the short run—when people put their minds to such deceptions, the only ultimate defense is clear thinking and vigilance, which is unfortunately always in short supply and needs to be slowly cultivated. Too many people are tempted by the promise of effortless living, of getting all their problems solved at the point of a gun turned on others who will be coerced to come up with the solutions. This is such a sweet notion to those who are lazy, who feel left out, or who believe that they are entitled to everything all those who are better off already have going for them, so the power-hungry have a good marketing ploy here. Envy, maybe, or the bogus political ideologies promoted by those who just must step in to govern the world as they see fit—as I say, I am not sure what kind of mental acrobatics manages to allow people to live with themselves in peace who perpetrate such fraud.

I do know of one prominent one, namely, that those who want to wield control over others believe they are on the side of goodness, virtue and justice. Making people “good” is their goal, they proclaim. Yet this just cannot be since people are only good, morally and ethically, if they choose to be. Otherwise they at most simply behave well, like robots or puppets.

Despite the fact that there is little one can do in response, other than to keep spelling out just how misguided it all is, perhaps now and then institutional barriers can also be built. Yet, since they too depend upon ideas, ideas that are so easily corrupted, the only real answer is the old one about eternal vigilance. I say, it’s worth it, so let’s go for it.