Wednesday, March 24, 2010

What Of Pre-exiting Conditions?

Tibor R. Machan

Here is what some would consider a hard case: Someone very ill is attempting to purchase insurance but companies refuse to provide it because they have a pretty good idea that covering the illness will cost very big bucks, way above what the insured and others with similar conditions can help cover. The policy costs far less than what they expect to have to spend on the sizable number of patients in this situation, so they don't want to take on this expense.

This is a picture that may seem to tell just one story, namely, how greedy, uncaring, narrowly self-interested are those who own and run insurance companies. But it could also tell the story that the applicant did not think to buy insurance early enough in life when the malady hadn't occurred yet. Another story therein could be that the malady came about through risky or outright self-destructive activities on the part of the applicant--excessive drinking, excessive smoking, dangerous sports, a hazardous lifestyle in general. Or plain bad luck could also be involved--even the most careful among us can meet with unforeseen mishaps and unless we prepared for them early enough in life, they will cost a bundle to deal with and one might be on one's own to do this now.

No one else but a loved one is morally--let alone legally--obligated to help out in such cases, if even he or she! In certain fields what the prospective patient is doing is called dumping--as when a manufacturing plant dumps its waste into the air mass or water ways for others to have to deal with it. In the area of environmental ethics and law, this is harshly condemned, by the way. But why not say, instead, "How selfish of us to want firms to take care of their own waste"? Yes, the waste comes with the task the company is involved in, producing cars or steel or whatever, but that is where pricing comes in. Charge customers enough to cover cost and then some, to make a profit, too. Or don't take on tasks you cannot handle economically. And this is just the attitude of many insurance company managers and owners!

Individuals who grow up in relatively advanced societies can usually come to be aware of life's risks early enough to take precautionary measures, such as purchasing insurance before maladies come around. Indeed, that's the point of insurance. The companies make big bucks because although the possibility of maladies exists, the probability of them is not that great. Many more people buy insurance than need to draw on the funds available to them from it in their lifetime.

But even quite apart from all this, which is but common sense, however unfortunate a situation one may be in, it is morally obscene to demand that others fix it at their expense. Again, think of pollution--we expect the polluters to handle it, not their neighbors even if the pollution came about through doing very worthwhile things! These others have their own problems to attend to and apart from intimates for whom they care and for whom they may actually be directly responsible, all contributions to the well being of strangers has to be a matter of charity or philanthropy. And these may not be coerced out of anyone--it stops being charity and giving then and becomes straightforward larceny.

Sure, once all this is grasped maybe drastic changes in how one goes about taking care of oneself need to be adopted. But others are not one's involuntary servants, slaves or serfs. They are supposedly free and sovereign persons and may make decisions about how to live their lives without others intrusions. Even the totally accidental mishap of others cannot amount to a source of legally enforceable obligations for them!

Well, yes, that used to be the idea of the American way of life but sadly not with the bulk of the current crop of politicians running things and their cheerleaders urging them on.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Mandated Insurance

Tibor R. Machan

Is the just signed federal health care legislation constitutional? Is it consistent with the principles of a free society? Is it what President Obama claims, consistent with the principles of this country? No. The bill is a straightforward advance--progress???--toward socialism, akin to that familiar to us in the former Soviet colonies and some other societies that believe in the top down regimentation of everyones' life.

The central claim of socialists is that only society exists, not individuals who make it up. They are like cells in the body of the collective whole. We as individuals do not exist and claiming that we have the right to run our own lives is akin to one's finger or foot claiming it needs to be left free to do its own thing. Seriously--this is the real meat of socialism.

But there is less Draconian socialist measures being proposed, including in the recently signed bill. A favorite retort to criticism of the mandate for us to purchase health insurance is that, "What's the problem, we already have this with auto insurance in many states of the union." Indeed, there may well be some serious legal challenges forthcoming to the just signed health care legislation arguing that it is outright unconstitutional to force citizens to purchase insurance. It is as if there were a law require one to by apples to sandals or cars. That would really be a drastic violation of our right to liberty.

But don't states already do this when they require vehicle drivers to purchase insurance before they get on the road? So is there not a precedence to the new mandate?

In plain language, no. The reason is relatively simple. Most of the roads throughout the USA are government owned and administered. The government, in other words, owns the roads--or the citizens do with governments doing the managing, kind of like apartments are managed by other than the owners but with the latter's authorization. So, then, presumably the roads around the country belong to the citizenry and are managed, with their authorization, by the government (e.g., the Department of Motor Vehicles and such).

But as with apartments, so with roads: only the renters (drivers) are under the jurisdiction of management, not everyone. Only those who choose to drive on public roads are subject to the government's mandate that they carry car insurance (and whatever else, such as having their cars equipped with mirrors and bumpers). In short, only those using the roads must have the requisite insurance, not those who ride bicycles or walk or ride a horse on private property.

But that's not what's in store for Americans with the new socialist health care legislation. It forces them all to have insurance approved by the federal government, even if they would rather take different measures to deal with the prospects of ill health. Some may want to stash away some of their earnings and rely on this when they get sick. Some may choose to make sure they don't get sick too often, at least not very sick, by taking exceptionally good care of themselves. Some may not mind getting sick and dying from it, given how much they prefer their hazardous life style (rightly or wrongly, as free men and women should be able to). Some may even believe that relying on physicians violates their religions liberty and is immoral--some Christian Scientists, I am told, hold this view--so they ought not to buy, let alone made to buy, health insurance as a matter of the religious freedom.

Bottom line is that the idea of coercing people to insure themselves is anything but compassionate, anything but humane, anything but constitutional in a free country. It amounts, plainly said, to involuntary servitude to some other people's vision of how one ought to live. That is not what a free society is all about.

Not that most Americans aren't already being coerced into supporting various measures of which they morally disapprove--like wars, like abortion for some, like funding other people's welfare and education. So the outrage with the current advance toward socialism is phony in a great many instances. But there is no justification for believing that requiring drivers to carry insurance serves as a precedence for forcing them to buy health insurance. Apples versus oranges.
Political Crime

Tibor R. Machan

Despite all efforts to deny it, by philosophers, natural scientists, and psychologists, there is little doubt that human beings have free will. That is one way they are so different from the rest of the world.

The impetus to deny free will is not difficult to appreciate. For many people nothing would be more convenient than to reduce everything in the world to just one kind of stuff. It used to be atoms; then it was matter-in-motion; later some more complicated subatomic stuff took front and center; today the candidate that is getting some traction is strings. But the basic message is always the same: the world is made of just one kind of stuff (like we are all made up of dust).

This idea has its advantages. If it is true, then one need but learn just one science, that of the stuff of which the world is made. No need for different disciplines like chemistry, physics, biology, psychology, sociology, economics, ethics and such. Just one principle of motion will do the trick since everything is the same. Differences among things are an illusion. And the same causal principle drives it all, so no need to figure what makes different things tick in, say, chemistry or biology, as if there were different kinds of things making up reality.

The evidence doesn't support this view. Just check around and see if everything is the same. Major differences are observable between, say, rocks and fish, birds and lions, people and donkeys and so on and so forth. Lumping them all together seems to me the lazy way to study them.

Now if there are genuine, bona fide differences among things in the world, it would not be odd at all that human beings are different in the important respect that they can exercise a unique capacity of free will, to direct their own conduct by their own initiative. Apart from the fact that this is very difficult to deny even as we discuss the issue--how would one explain all the different ways people behave, believe, hope, wish, etc?--it also makes sense of how differently we see the free will issue. What other plant or animal has such a wide variety of opinions, religions, politics, and so on, on some topic? This is best explained by the postulation of human freedom of thought.

Now why is this important just now? Because our free will also makes it understandable that people are able to be good and bad and move along the continuum between those two opposites. And this applies to their politics, not only ethics. We are witnessing it every day as we learn of crimes being committed all around the globe, throughout human history, with no progress in stemming it in any significant measure. Both immorality and illegality testify to the basic human capacity to choose between doing what is right versus what is wrong, whatever the details.

Not only that but this capacity needs to be kept in mind as we understand political ups and downs in various societies.

As a case in point, take socialism. It is a vile political system, a grand one-side-fits all regime, with a few "leaders"--would be tyrants--running the show for all the great variety of individuals who really need to be free to direct their own lives for better or worse. But now, socialists, one group of political criminals, keep attempting to ride rough shod over everyone. (They aren't the only ones but one of the most active current crop, ruining Greece, France, as well as much of Latin and North America.) They will make some headway, just as often criminals will succeed in violating victims and getting away with it with impunity. In Eastern Europe these criminals lorded it over millions, with catastrophic results, for the better part of the 20th century--both the national and international socialist varieties. Today we have some of them still in full power, in North Korea, Cuba, and Venezuela, but elsewhere their failure at doing any good at all has become evident. Still, as with criminals, they keep trying again and again.

In the U.S.A. they have not had much success nor, however, have they disappeared, no more so than have ordinary criminals vanished. For now the socialists are back with a vengeance, taking over a larger and larger portion of American culture. And one needs to remember that even criminals are not uniformly evil--some love dogs, some may even be decent parents or fine bowlers, you name it. But in essence they are corrupt human beings and so are socialists, when it comes to political ideas and ideals.

The only remedy is that old standby of eternal vigilance. The human spirit isn't going to permanently conquer political crime, any more than the other kind. But it may make progress toward justice and liberty in a sort of roller coaster fashion. I am ready for the next upward swing, big time.
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.