The opponents of ObamaCare are missing the boat.
They are arguing that the new law is a redistribution program. They are accusing the Democrats of “generational theft.” They contend that ObamaCare penalizes the young, who are generally healthier, by making them pay more for health insurance so that older people pay less.
All these claims are true—but so what? Isn’t everyone taught that the essence of morality is self-sacrifice? Isn’t it widely accepted that we are our brother’s keeper? Why then shouldn’t the healthy be made to sacrifice for the sick? All our social welfare programs rest on the belief that we have a duty to regard the needs of others as more important than our own. From subsidized mortgages to public broadcasting to cell phones for the poor, the underlying premise is that each of us is obligated to fulfill the unmet needs of others.
ObamaCare implements this idea faithfully. The healthy are sacrificed to the sick, the young to the old, the taxpayer to the subsidy-recipient. If we accept the altruist premise, can we object to the altruist conclusion?
You may be perfectly satisfied with your current health-insurance policy. But our nanny-government declares that it is “substandard” and that you may not keep it. You say you don’t want to have to pay for coverage for maternity care or drug rehabilitation? The government replies that you are being selfish. After all, there are people who need maternity care or drug rehabilitation, and why should they alone have to pay for it? Yes, you are being harmed, but sacrificing for the sake of others—the redistributionists contend–is your moral mandate.
Every act of government paternalism, from banning sugared sodas and trans fats to requiring participation in the Social Security system, rests on this premise. The state declares that it knows what is best for “society as a whole.” You may conscientiously monitor your diet or set aside money for your retirement—but what about the people who don’t? The code of altruism demands that the “haves” sacrifice for the “have-nots”—i.e., that the responsible sacrifice for the irresponsible, the ambitious for the indolent, the rational for the irrational.
The same premise of self-sacrifice underlies ObamaCare. While lip-service is paid to the notion that we will all somehow benefit from this new system, the fundamental justification being offered is through an appeal to altruism. Since there are many who cannot afford health insurance, we are told, those who can afford it must help them. Any individual’s interests are to be subordinated to an indefinable “public interest”—which simply means: some people must suffer so that others might benefit.
It does not matter to the redistributionists that the quality of available medical care—available to both rich and poor–will slowly erode. They are not concerned that the producers in the medical field—the doctors, the pharmaceutical firms, the medical-device creators, the health-insurance underwriters—are being shackled and that their output will consequently be diminished. All they care about is that everyone sacrifice—and that the resulting misery be shared equally by all. (See also “Unsoaking the Rich.”)
Isn’t it time to challenge the validity of this idea? Isn’t it time to ask why? Why should the fact of someone’s need constitute a claim against you? Why does the fact that someone lacks health insurance create a duty on your part to supply it? Why should it be wrong to spend your money on your own desires but virtuous to spend it on someone else’s? Why should someone else’s needs be sacrosanct while yours are scorned as “selfish”?
If you wish to help innocent victims of misfortune, you should certainly feel free to do so. But you have no duty toward them. You owe them no moral debt, and government has no right to compel you to pay it. Any private, voluntary help you provide is out of generosity and good will, for which the recipient should express gratitude—contrary to the altruist claim that need generates an entitlement to assistance.
The same mentality that declares “You didn’t build that” now insists that you must selflessly finance other people’s health insurance. But if you’ve earned your money honestly, it is yours, and you have the moral right to decide how to spend it. It is not the function of government to take money from those who have earned it and give it to those who haven’t.
Your “brother” is not someone to be “kept,” like a pet animal whose food and shelter are your responsibility. He is an autonomous human being, and so are you. The proper way to deal with other people is not by sacrifice but by trade, by offering value for value, to mutual advantage. You should be able to freely decide what kind of insurance, if any, to purchase and which doctors to patronize–just as doctors and insurers should freely decide, in open, unregulated competition, what services they will offer and what prices they will charge.
It is clear to virtually everyone that the practice of physical enslavement is unjust and baseless. We don’t claim that a “greater good” is achieved when some minority is in bondage to the majority. We understand that each individual is an end in himself, not simply a means to the ends of others. Why then should moral servitude be regarded any differently?
ObamaCare, like other “entitlement” programs, denies the individual’s sovereignty over his own life and property. So it is not enough merely to identify it as a redistributionist plan. To fully defeat it, we should reject the core idea that self-sacrifice is our moral duty.
[This was published at Forbes Online, December 13, 2013.]