Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Why the Obamacare Fight Matters

Look, Obamacare will get funded.  Either this week or next week.  And if there's a "government shutdown" the Republicans will get the blame.

But that's not the point.

The point is that, unlike all the other lovely entitlement programs from Social Security to Medicare, Obamacare is violating Kristol's Law.  That's Irving Kristol, Bill Kristol's dad.

Kristol's Law says that if you want to help the poor, you need to deal in the middle class.  When Social Security was passed, the average middle-class senior didn't have a pension plan.  When Medicare passed the average middle-class senior didn't have health insurance.

But today, the average middle-class family already has health insurance.  So if we are now going to extend health insurance to the 30 million (who are mostly young people and people without assets) that don't have it and throw in a subsidy as well, it stands to reason that the average middle-class family is going to find itself spending more on health care.  A lot more.

Kristol's Law merely makes explicit the unsaid calculus of the authoritarian welfare state.  It tries to offer free stuff to a lot of people that seems to be paid for by a few.  That's why President Obama is always going around talking about getting the rich to pay a little more.  In fact, of course, you can never really tell who will be the net payers for a government program.

The meaning of Kristol's Law becomes even more explicit when you remember that all government, from the robber band to the guerrillas in the hills to formal democratic government, always operates by offering the promise of loot and plunder to its supporters.  It is always a calculus of force: Join us and you will get yours.

The conservative argument against the calculus of loot is threefold.
  1. Government is force.  Humans are social animals; we cooperate and do things for other people not because we are forced to but because that's what social animals do.  Force is a destroyer; cooperation is a multiplier.  The more force, the less prosperity for anyone; the more cooperation, the more prosperity for all.  Because why bother to go out to work in the morning when you can force someone to send you a check?
  2. Administration by experts doesn't work.  This has been settled science for over half a century.  Ludwig von Mises in the 1920s argued that socialism couldn't work because it could not compute prices.  Mises's student F.A. Hayek in the 1940s argued that the "man in Whitehall" just couldn't know enough, compared to a million consumers and producers, to direct the economy.  We've seen the expert model fail recently over global warming.  Based on the simplistic idea that carbon dioxide was the marker for global warming, teams of experts and activists insisted that we reduce our consumption of carbon-based energy.  But the computer models they built on that theory clearly aren't any good at predicting the future; climate is a lot more complex than they thought.  Back to the drawing board.  But the market does that automatically without political intervention.
  3. Entitlements and subsidies lead to disaster.  Our liberals friends insist that health-care and education and food stamps are a "right."  The trouble is that, in fact, health-care and education and housing and transportation are the things we work for; the whole economy is based on people striving to get the goods and services they need.  We make things and serve other people so that we can earn wages and buy the things we need to live and prosper.  If you give a single mother with two children $35,000 a year in benefits then she doesn't need to get married and doesn't need to get a job to support herself and her children.  This leads to social and cultural and economic breakdown, as the settled science shows.
The conservative approach is to remove the liberal culture of compulsion and replace it with the cooperation of "civil society."  Health care?  Well, today's longevity is a factor of about seven things, from asepsis to vaccination to sanitation to education to income to food to actual "health care."  Education?  Uber-liberal homeschooler David H. Albert in And the skylark sings to me shows that there are abundant resources to help parents educate their children without government getting in the way. Jobs? Well it would be much easier for employers to hire people if they weren't harassed by endless taxes and regulations, starting with the minimum wage and the payroll taxes.

Would the conservative alternative work?  Of course it would, for humans are social animals.  But there is a problem.  Millions of people have adjusted their work effort and their lives to take advantage of the government's free stuff.  It will take a total meltdown for them to release their grip on their entitlements and their "rights."

But with Obamacare, we can make a start.

No comments:

Post a Comment