“Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.” – Frederic Bastiat
Pundits, pontificators and plebeians all have polarized around the issue of national healthcare. Many have spoken wisely on the pros and cons of the proposed system, a heartening fact given the relative deafening silence when it came to the other government boondoggles of the last few years (really the last hundred to be exact). At the heart of the matter is a debate fundamental to our liberty that the public has failed to have. This regards the broader ramifications of a government-granted right to health.
Aristotle said that man seeks pleasure while avoiding pain. Healthcare is a means to prevent physical pain, and thus I would argue secure pleasure. However, a need for healthcare is dictated by one’s physical condition. One’s physical condition is attributable to a variety of factors. First, there is the question of diet. Then, there are one’s living conditions, namely shelter and clothing. Surely there is a psychosomatic factor as well. Finally of course, there is the question of one’s physical activity level.
If we are to allow healthcare to fall under the purview of government, then certainly it must follow that all things that contribute to one’s health must also be regulated by the government.
Thus, necessarily each and every citizen will have a responsibility to provide ample food, sufficient shelter and clean clothing for each and every other citizen. Likewise, it should follow that the types of food be regulated to ensure an optimal diet, and the shelter and clothing be comfortable enough and of high enough quality to meet government standards. Since one needs a stable living environment, should not the government also have a say as to how children are raised within their homes? Naturally one’s mental health might also be tied to access to diversions, so should not all entertainment such as the arts, film and sports also be government-controlled and taxpayer-subsidized? Should not exercise be mandated, with government-run physical fitness centers for all? What scares me most is that in writing this list, government already controls many of these things in one way or another.
Naturally, a government-run system of healthcare will lead to arbitrary, whimsical intrusions into our daily lives. Who is to set the bounds as to what constitutes proper controls to make the system “competitive” and “affordable,” when the Ezekiel Emanuel’s of the world will influence the system?
Much like the Necessary and Proper Clause, nationalized healthcare will serve as a Trojan horse; it will lead to the greatest infringement on our natural rights of all, infringement on our lives. You’d think the state would already be satisfied having devoured our liberty and property (pursuit of happiness if you prefer), but always hungry for more power, under this system it will get personal.
Perhaps scarier than the details of this system, devilish as they may be is the principle that from the first day we spend on this Earth, given a right to health for all, our responsibility will be to provide for our fellow man, valuing the community above ourselves. If one were to choose to dedicate one’s life to supporting others, of one’s own volition, than this would be fine. The merits of sacrifice for others are numerous and in many cases commendable. However, under a national healthcare system, because of a handful of politicians, we will be forced from day one to work to support everyone else, because the state says so. In the end, we will all be enslaved to each other. Our common lot will be one of misery.
Call me selfish. Call me greedy. Call me immoral. I value my life above yours, insofar as the Leviathan is forcing me to subsidize your eating habits, drinking habits, smoking habits mental health and genetic predisposition. I do not want to be forced to pay for your healthcare by government decree, nor should I. The Founders guarantees my right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. To presuppose that the collectives’ right supersedes my own destroys these very rights. It ensures pain for all and pleasure for none.
I leave you with some prescient words from Grover Cleveland – the last respectable Democrat – regarding his reasoning for rejection of an act to appropriate federal funds for drought-stricken Texas farmers. He declared:
The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow-citizens in misfortune. This has been repeatedly and quite lately demonstrated. Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the Government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character, while it prevents the indulgence among our people of the kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood.
As you may have come to expect at this point, I am not entirely fond of the education I have received at Columbia University. One of the major reasons for this is because of the bias inherent in almost every class I have taken here, from the most seemingly apolitical math course to the inherently political social science course. An example of the type of indoctrination one receives at an Ivy League institution was center stage this week in one of my courses.
Having completed a discussion on torts, we moved on to its application in emissions regulation. Emissions prove highly relevant because one party may cause damage to another party’s property because of the pollution one gives off. However, according to my professor, there is a solution to this that is equitable for all sides. My professor proclaimed, “It is the job of future economists like yourselves to solve these types of problems…otherwise what’s the point of studying economics?”
What was my professor’s solution? Well, since the typical Pigouvian tax wouldn’t work, of course we could follow the “market-based” solution of tradable carbon credits. The logic that my teacher put forth seemed infallible – the government can set the emissions level they so choose, and by creating carbon credit shares tradable on an open market, firms could buy or sell off their right to emit based upon their polluting needs. At the aggregate level, pollution will be reduced. Regardless of the initial allocation of carbon shares, trading will allow companies to emit at the level they so choose. Not only this, but the government won’t even intervene in this free market, and there will be total transparency to boot. Even more remarkable to my professor was the fact that this market was able to set the price, without necessary fixing by the regulator. Hooray for the central planners!
To be fair, my teacher did say that it is not necessarily easy to figure out the optimal level of emissions. But leaving out the fact that of course no government official nor any person period can know the optimal level of emission (especially given that this differs for every single individual), there are myriad other reasons why this solution is not “market based,” or socially beneficial. First, the market for carbon credits is being determined by government fiat. The government determines how many shares should be initially allocated to companies, and enforces the market on private companies. To whom does the burden ultimately fall to either pay for producing pollution, or build new plants that emit less? Why the consumer of course. This was not mentioned in the lecture. The question then becomes, are the social benefits of an emissions cap and market imposed by the government greater than the cost consumers will bare as a result of these policies? This writer happens to think not. Not to mention, of course there are going to be certain businesses that will increase their profits off of the push to decrease emissions as well, meaning government intervention will divert the natural flow of capital to specific sectors in the market.
There is of course as always the philosophical issue as well. Why should the government be in the business of controlling emissions? Of course, I’m sure any good politician, or economist for that matter would make the argument that it is for the public good. However, as always, I would argue that the free market provides a better alternative. First, if people are outraged by the emissions in their communities, they can take their cases to the courts and seek compensation from the company. If one’s private property is damaged, it is their right to seek just compensation, and the job of the courts to arbitrate in these disputes. Second, if this proves insufficient, and the company truly is tearing a community apart, the people in the community can boycott the company, making it financially impossible for the company to operate, and thus forcing the company to change its production techniques to emit less pollution. In an age where information is more readily accessible and transmittable than ever before, it should be easier than ever to rally people against a company. For those who challenge this, even with multinational companies, if the consumers are so angry at the producers for their treatment of the environment, it should be worth the effort of citizens to take shots at the bottom line of the polluting producer, or to rally lawyers and interest groups against the firm, as the firm like any defendant is deemed innocent until proved guilty. Further, if there was ever a time that citizens could rally against corporations easily, given the speed at which information can be disseminated today, people are more easily able to rally behind their causes than ever before.
Unfortunately, the professor of this particular class believes that if a divine central planner could accomplish the aforementioned “elegant” solution, this would be perfectly acceptable as well. It is all about “efficiency,” and “optimal allocations” to university professors. But there is never the question of right and wrong. Simple morality, and respect for natural rights is not a factor. It is always the obligation of politicians and economists to solve our problems, not private individuals. The left is able to veil their interventionism in the cloak of the free market. As long as academia continues to pander about the virtues of government, our future leaders will continue to make the mistakes of their predecessors.
24 has captured the imagination of the American public for the last 8 years, and with good reason. While the plots often border on ridiculous, nevertheless we keep watching, knowing that no matter how death-defying the situation, somehow Jack is going to save (or should I say bail out) the nation. It is refreshing that in this day and age there are still some people that value a good old-fashioned American hero.
In addition to 24‘s always entertaining story lines, the show presents both sides of many political and moral issues. This season of 24 particularly has focused on four themes worthy of examination: protection of our rights from the government, government corruption, intervention in foreign conflicts and political correctness and the issue of torture. While these themes have marked many a 24 season, in particular they pervade the current one, undoubtedly as a reflection of our current political climate. Let us analyze them.
On Protection from the Government
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this season has been the reemergence of CTU as a four-person team, fighting to protect the US citizens from the government itself. This is something that should convert liberals and libertarians alike into fans of the show. Our political officials and intelligence agencies have become so corrupted that only four people left in the country have the ability to defend the rights of millions. I have often asked myself the question, “If the government is supposed to protect our life, liberty and property, then who is supposed to protect our life, liberty and property from the government?” I’ll tell you who: Jack Bauer, Bill Buchanan, Tony Almedia and Chloe O’Brien. Though I doubt that Joel Surnow (awesome as he may be) et al really thought this point through, they should be lauded for exposing a fundamental problem with our governmental system, and showing that when threatened by enemies both foreign and domestic, citizens must band together to protect their rights.
On Government Corruption
In the current season of 24, government officials in the President’s inner circle and in the FBI privy to classified information are working for the bad guys – a rogue regime in fictional Sengala, Africa committing mass genocide. While the details are lacking, it seems clear that there are certain kickbacks monetary and perhaps political involved. Could our own government officials ever be working to undermine our nation for self-interested reasons?
While I do not think (and certainly pray) that any of our leaders would sell us out to the point of encouraging terrorist attacks against our citizens, there are ways that leaders more subtly have cultivated ties with our enemies. For starters, take a look at this recent WSJ editorial on Bill and Hillary’s dubious donors. With links to corrupt officials from Nigeria to the Dnieper, needless to say we may want to reconsider Hillary as our Secretary of State. I presume that the Clintons are just one of many political families with ties to less-than-stellar regimes (think of the Bush’s oil ties in the Middle East for example).
This is not to say that these pols are plants for foreign governments working to undermine our state, but we need to recognize that political influence as always has a price that many are willing to pay. Access is king. If someone can pull off a $50 billion Ponzi scheme, is it really impossible to believe that people in our government could subtly or not-so-subtly abet our enemies? I am no conspiracy theorist, but I do believe it pays to always be cynical of our representatives. Moreover, the general concept here of using political clout to receive favors, monetary or otherwise is timely in the wake of Blagojevich, Stevens and Spitzer…and all of political history for that matter.
On Intervention in Foreign Conflicts
The President in the current season finds herself in a bind largely as the result of engaging in foreign entanglements. Trying to act as a liberator of innocent civilians being murdered in Africa, the President prepares to attack Sengala, only to find that the Sengalese have taken control of America’s infrastructure and have the power to strike the nation’s most vital organs. Stand down she is told, and America will go unharmed; invade, and face the consequence of having American blood on her hands.
This scenario is quite prescient as we try to figure out as a nation what our role should be in the world. The predominant view had been that the US as the most powerful nation economically and militarily should serve as the world police, and that promoting democracy throughout the world, sometimes through outright nation-building, was the way to ensure our safety and the freedom and prosperity of others. Obviously, this philosophy needs to be reworked.
I do not view it as the proper role of our government to intervene throughout the world. When it comes to spreading democracy via nation-building, this has never worked well, with the exception of in Japan (a state with a democratic past). As we have seen in Iraq and Gaza, democracy does not ensure freedom or peace, nor do all peoples have the will for these values. While the American government should vocally support the cause of freedom, and not impede the American citizens from supporting the movement for freedom abroad through whatever means they so choose, it behooves the people of other nations to fight for these freedoms if they so desire them. As Mencken proclaims in his Notes on Democracy, “for the loftiest of all the rights of citizen, by the democratic dogma, is that of the franchise, and whoever is not willing to fight for it, even at the cost of his last drop of gore, is surely not likely to exercise it with a proper sense of consecration after getting it.”
This principle goes for trying to defend people suffering from grave injustices as well. I unequivocally stand in opposition to all tyranny and repression. If a people is being massacred, it is incumbent upon those who feel strongly on the matter to defend those people. This does not mean however that it is the job of our government to do so, unless our citizens explicitly request it. Our government’s number one priority is to protect our “life, liberty and property.” To get involved militarily with extraneous conflicts as we have seen on 24 and through practical experience poses a threat to our essential rights. It is the right of the people to defend others, but there should be no mandate on the government to do so.
On Political Correctness
Last year, a representative from Blackwater came to speak at Columbia University. I had the opportunity to ask him about the biggest ongoing challenges facing the defense community, and without pause, he answered that it was political correctness. Given today’s society, it is amazing that we are even able to fight wars anymore. As we see on 24, almost every intelligence decision is made while walking the fine line between balancing delicate political interests and the innate desire to defend our people. In my opinion, this political correctness not only cripples our education and economic systems, but proves most debilitating when it comes to intelligence. Without being able to obtain necessary information, we can kiss goodbye all of the other aspects of society we so cherish because we will be defeated.
Though I did not intend to go into it, this brings up the moral question of torture. Foreshadowing what I would bet we will see here, the season begins with Jack Bauer testifying in front of the Senate about the interrogation methods he used to help foil terrorist attacks in prior seasons. As one might expect, this testimony is pure political theater. The Senator grilling Bauer wants to hear Jack admit to ruthlessly torturing people. This is what the left has been fighting the Bush administration on throughout his tenure, and the objections they raise to torture should be vigorously debated.
To me it all seems very simple: if you believe that someone knows of an imminent, credible threat, torture, be it waterboarding, sleep deprivation or otherwise can be effective, and should be used. Otherwise, for numerous reasons it is best to avoid it. I understand that underlying the issue of torture are questions like its definition, and the guidelines of international law. I am no expert in these areas, nor have I given them sufficient study for my opinion to bare significant weight. But to a man, my humble opinion is that if you think your citizens are in danger, it is necessary for you to use whatever means possible to protect them. Our elected officials have an obligation to our safety first.
Forgetting about these weighty matters however, most of all 24 is entertaining, and should be appreciated by all. Long live Jack Bauer.