Friday, March 30, 2012

Big Government, ObamaCare and Freeloaders

According to Shikha Dalmia in Reason, ObamaCare is all about dealing with freeloading.   After sneering at Dahlia Lithwick's hissy fit over at Slate, she writes:
Liberals insist that the individual mandate forcing everyone to buy coverage is necessary to prevent freeloaders from saddling everyone else with the cost of their emergency care.
But it was liberals that set this mess up right after World War II when the feds created a program to finance hospital construction.  The only gotcha was that if you took the money you had to accept patients irrespective of ability to pay.  By the 1960s they had to clean up the mess with a formal program of indigent health care, called Medicaid.  Now they want to expand it society-wide even though uncompensated care is around 3 percent of total costs.

Anyway, why are liberals suddenly concerned about freeloading.  The whole point of progressive politics is to legitimate freeloading.  Yet now liberals say that freeloading is such a problem that we have to force all Americans into a one-size-fits-all comprehensive and mandatory program of health care?  Who could have seen that coming?

When government gets into the business of curbing freeloading it gets into nothing but trouble.  Because government is force, and that means that the freeloaders must be coerced.  Coercion is expensive: just ask Mao and Stalin.  To be really effective it needs the authority of the bullet to the head.

Freeloading is the big problem for humans, the social animals.  How do you stop people that want to live at the expense of others?  Nicholas Wade in The Faith Instinct has the answer.  The human solution to the freeloading problem is religion.  Religion has developed a number of ways to discourage freeloading, using both carrots and sticks.  There is, for example, the all-night dance party.  There is something about rhythmic dancing that gets people all into the community mood.  Then there is the divine judge.  Freeloaders may not get caught in this world, but they certainly get their deserts in the next one.  Or they come back reincarnated as a donkey.

The problem that liberals are facing is that their whole model of governance is collapsing around their ears.  It was built on the idea of "rights," that people had a right, through government, to enforce their access to valuable things like health care and education.

These social goods are valuable things, and the whole point of society is to spread these goods as wide as possible.  The great question is whether government is the right social institution to deliver these goods, whether force and coercion are efficient in delivering social goods.

Conservatives argue that government is only effective at fighting wars.  You identify an emergency, you mobilize the nation, you convert the economy to the supply of war, and then you send the young men off to defeat the enemy.  After it's over you wind down the engines of war, return to peacetime pursuits, and pay off the debt piled up in the war.  Government shrinks into a midget.

The problem with progressive politics is that it makes everything into a war.  Our liberal friends like to complain about the permanent war of the national-security state.  But it is nothing compared to the war on poverty, the war on insurance companies, and the war on Wall Street and the war on private education.

The point is that everything that government does ends up as a war.  Why?  Because in order to justify the coercion, you have to frame every issue as a matter of life and death.

It ends up being a very cramped view of human social relations.  War is the state of relations with unfriendly states beyond the boundaries of our state.  It is a dreadful thing to turn everything inside the boundaries of the state into a war.  Because that means that there is always a low-level civil war going on.

We humans have developed a whole universe of social institutions to facilitate cooperation and exchange between humans, from the family to the clan, from the village to the town, from individual prayers to the church, from the neighborhood association to the market to the corporation.  These are all institutions that attempt to enroll citizens in projects of social cooperation without the need to bring in coercive fist of police power.

Every time that government steps in with a new program it substitutes coercion for cooperation.  Does it ever solve the freeloading problem?  Not likely.  For the end-point of new programs is the totalitarian coercion in the communist-fascist state of universal freeloading, where the joke is that "we" pretend to work and "they" pretend to pay us.

Most of the time liberals manage to disguise the mailed fist of government power beneath a velvet glove of caring and compassion.  It is the achievement of President Obama to have stripped this naked truth of its sentimental veil.

This year the American people will have a choice, not an echo.  Do they want to intensify the coercive state?  Or do they want to try another path?  The answer will come on Wednesday, November 7, 2012.

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