Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Why I Don't Support A "Public Option" In Health Care

I discuss this subject much with a very bright friend of mine. He sometimes makes the claim that "We're so advanced now, and life is so complicated, that we need government to do some of these things. If government took care of it, that would free me up from worrying about it so I could do things I want to do" (he most recently made that last remark in relation to pensions). I reply that such is the very definition of a nanny state, where government does everything for you--all you have to do is pay for it.

If someone so smart and so well-versed in the writings of our Founders can say such a thing, it's no surprise how far our country has already come down the road to socialism. I have a couple of stories to relate that show that this impulse hasn't always been so strong.

The first involves Congressman Davy Crockett of Kentucky. It seems that there was once a fire in the Georgetown section of DC, and Crockett actually helped fight the fire and rescue people--he was a genuine hero. He voted for a bill in the House that granted $20,000 for fire relief. Read about the discussion Crockett had when he encountered a constituent back home who asked where in the Constitution Congress was given the authority to give public money to charity. Oh, Crockett tried it all: it's for a good cause, a rich country like ours can afford such a small sum for women and children, it was the right thing to do. But the constituent was having none of it; I won't spoil the story for you, but it's a good one.

Next, let's fast forward to 1887, when Democrat President Grover Cleveland was presented with a bill to provide drought and famine relief to the state of Texas. Cleveland vetoed the bill, saying the following:

I am willing to believe that notwithstanding the aid already furnished a donation of seed grain to the farmers located in this region to enable them to put in new crops would serve to avert a continuance or return of an unfortunate blight. And yet I feel obliged to withhold my approval of the plan as proposed by this bill to indulge a benevolent and charitable sentiment through the appropriation of public funds for that purpose.

I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution and I do not believe that the power and duty of the general government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit.

The federal government should do those things that it's designed to do, and not conduct "mission creep" and continue to take on new, expensive propositions.

Quite simply, I don't trust government to do most things well, and it's right and proper to be suspicious of government. That's not anti-government, that's healthy skepticism. My friend and I discuss the piecemeal method of lawmaking--our tax code wasn't created in a day, but has been piecemealed together over decades to become the bloated monstrosity it is today. When social security was created in the 30's, there were 17 workers for every recipient; after over 70 years of piecemeal additions, with more types of people eligible for social security than ever before, there are fewer than 3 workers for every recipient, and the entire system will be operating at a loss in just a couple decades. Each of these changes creates new problems, which are fixed by new piecemeal updates, each of which creates new problems....

No "managed economy" has ever worked. The Soviets tried it, the Chinese tried it, the Eastern Europeans tried it, the Cubans tried it. All except Cuba gave up the managed economy, and the results speak for themselves. Managed economies, or even managing only 1/6 of the world's largest economy, cannot function, because no one person has all the information needed to make all the necessary decisions. A market economy, though, with millions of inputs and millions of people making decisions, somehow gets the job done; it may not be perfect, but like democracy, it's the best system we've found so far. I'm reminded of this quote, from an economic article in the Telegraph:

The paper, which recommends that the US return to a more laissez-faire economic system rather than intervening further in activity, has been endorsed by Nobel laureate James Buchanan, who said: "We have learned some things from comparable experiences of the 1930s' Great Depression, perhaps enough to reduce the severity of the current contraction. But we have made no progress toward putting limits on political leaders, who act out their natural proclivities without any basic understanding of what makes capitalism work."

Most politicians are lawyers. They aren't economists, industrialists, businessmen, or laymen. Quite clearly, I don't have confidence that many of them truly know what makes capitalism work--and they want to take over car manufacturing, banking, and health care. If that gives you no cause for concern at all, then you're not being objective.

Remember a couple weeks ago, when the President was defending the public option in health care, and said that private insurance companies shouldn't fear a government plan because UPS and FedEx are doing fine but the US Postal Service is losing money? (Great way to stump for another federal program, by the way!) Let's look at another federal program, Amtrak:

Even though the American freight-train business has enjoyed a renaissance in the last twenty years — companies like the Burlington Northern Santa Fe and CSX are admirable for their competitive spirit and financial results — I am skeptical that Amtrak is the company that can lead the way to the re-birth of U.S. passenger service. Freight, let's remember, only flourished when Conrail was privatized and the industry deregulated...

Perhaps equally important, where is Amtrak’s passion for railroading? Why hasn’t the route map changed in forty years? Where are the car-carrying trains, the elegant stations, the sleepers that cater to business people with showers and wi-fi, or even the special tourist trains that would take travelers across America to Civil War battlefields, major league baseball games, rock concerts, or national parks...

Here’s another irony of the railroad stimulus package: Freight companies are prospering with deregulation and private capital, but Amtrak is running late while on the dole.
Government needs to smooth the bumps in the road and get out of the way. Social security: going broke. Medicare: going broke. Let's not add another government program that will bankrupt us even quicker.

What can government do to help ease health care costs? We might start with some suggestions offered by the CEO and co-founder of Whole Foods.

I don't support a public option for health care. As President Bush 41 might say, "Wouldn't be prudent at this juncture"--or any other juncture, for that matter.

And if you haven't done so already, go read the Davy Crockett/Horatio Bunce link above. Fantastic story.


MikeAT said...

Remember, there is no problem out there that’s so bad that Congress cannot make it worse!

Mrs. Johnson said...

Thank you for sharing the Article from the Wall Street Journal. I enjoyed it!

I am also very skeptical of government these days.

FactCheck.com said...

Out of context alert!

I said *an* argument can be made in the abstract that when government does some of the mundane things for us. It frees us up to pursue those things we want to do. I never denied the ineptitude of government.

There was a time in this country if you wanted water and sewer you had to build the infrastructure yourself. A road. Build it yourself. In other words you had to spend your *free* time doing the mundane. My question to you is, are there things the government can do 'smartly' (where's my philosopher king?) that does provide us with freedom? I'm not necessarily arguing, is a government utility inefficient. Perhaps. But, does it free you up to do other things? I was arguing your notion of freedom. I was suggesting that freedom comes when someone else does the mundane.

'Nanny state'? Everything for us? A bit hyperbolic (pun intended). This is not a dictatorship. We do vote on occasion.

You and I go round and round about your Ayn Randian, selfish, everyman for himself, deregulate everything and the market will sort it out. I'm just as skeptical of unrestrained business as unchecked government.

Pensions. That comment was a bit of a poke to someone who *gets* one (you). From someone who doesn't (me).

PeggyU said...

That's perfect, Darren! There is also a section in the Federalist papers where James Madison talks about the federal government's role in the creation/maintenance of an interstate canal system that would have improved interstate commerce and allowed the government to move troops more easily by boat. Madison objected to federal involvement, saying that it was beyond the scope of the powers granted in the Constitution.

Now, this is an interpretation straight from the author of the Constitution. I think it's safe to say that government-funded health care is even further from that intent.

Darren said...


I apologize if you think I mischaracterized your words or sentiments. You know me well enough to know that that is not my intent.

allen (in Michigan) said...

Mischaracterization alert!

The free market isn't interchangeable with anarchy and, in fact, can't exist during anarchy except in its most primitive, least efficient form.

A free market depends on a rule of law that respects private property and allows for the enforcement of contracts. Otherwise the market contracts to simple barter there being no way to ensure that exchanges that depend on the promise of a future action are enforceable.

Also, voluntary, community action worked back when and it works to this day. The shortcoming of voluntary, community action is that it conflicts with inherent desire of lefties to impose their will on their fellow citizen since the operative word is "voluntary". A good idea shouldn't be subject to the whim of the individual in the lefty mind-set but should be mandatory and enforced by government edict so there's uniform compliance.

As for Rand, her love affair with selfishness bears on the free market only to the extent that she makes it difficult to ignore the fact that selfishness is part of human character. The free market couldn't exist without selfishness but rather then the free market being a celebration of selfishness the free market harnesses selfishness to societies true, overall needs.

Capitalists are to the free market as the horse is to the harness - the horse may think it's in charge but it isn't. The free market determines the destination, not the horse. The horse just gets a bag of feed as compensation for its efforts.

PeggyU said...

I like that analogy! Mind if I steal it?

maxutils said...

As one who frequently attends concerts in San Francisco, I must say . . . it's cheaper and easier to take the train and BART to the city than it is to drive. No contest. And, you don't have to pay attention. If only there were a late night train back . . .

Darren said...

It's not cheaper if there are a couple of you.

maxutils said...


We both know that's not an issue.
Thanks for reminding me, though.

maxutils said...

Whole foods guy is dead on..