Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Ethics of Compulsion

A controversial element of the Obama healthcare reform plan is its “public option “ clause, whereby those without health insurance would be enrolled in the government’s subsidized package. Opposition has come mainly from free market advocates who fear that a government plan would underprice private insurance and eventually lead to the demise of private health insurance and, with it, their ability to choose their own doctors, treatments, etc.

Apparently there is less opposition to more coercive government measures to force private insurers to accept those with pre-existing health problems, to price the same for all categories of risk (such as age, sex, and lifestyle), and the mandatory inclusion of politically motivated procedures, such as sex-change operations.

I regret to say that I am certain that something will pass and that eventually the government will take total control of healthcare in America. The same dynamic existed for government programs that now are completely out of control, such as Medicare, Medicaid, Food Stamps, Social Security, and other welfare programs. Once a foothold has been gained, there is an irresistible pressure to extend the benefits to the next tier of potential beneficiaries.

The reason that these welfare programs gain a foothold in the first place is that the electorate has too little concern over their loss of freedom and no understanding of the philosophical basis for advocating the protection of their freedoms. But all such programs fail the freedom test.

The Source of Our Freedom

Frederic Bastiat explained it best in his 1850 book The Law, in which he explained the foundation of man’s freedom and the logical implications for limiting the power of the state. Bastiat repeated the widely held (at that time) understanding that man (and woman, of course) is created in the image of God. And Bastiat meant each and every individual man, not some collective of “men” as an aggregate group. He explained that this is a logical conclusion and not exclusively a religious conviction. For one would come to the same conclusion about man’s relationship to the state even if he were an atheist.

Bastiat explained that man’s relationship to other men must fall into one of three categories and that only one of those categories was compatible with man as a rational being. One, man owns himself. Two, some men own other men. Or, three, everyone owns everyone else. The third option is impossible, for if everyone owned everyone else, we all would have to poll everyone else on the planet in order to do anything at all. This is impossible. The second option is the case of slavery, which we may dismiss without belaboring the issue of the impossibility of any ethical determination of how some become masters and the rest become slaves. Therefore, we are left with the first option, which is completely compatible with both religious convictions and secular reality.

Next Bastiat explained that man’s ownership over himself places natural limits on his actions. Most importantly man could do anything he chose, but only as long as he granted all other men the same natural right and as long as he harmed no other men in the exercise of his right. This leads to man’s innate right of self-protection. The only legitimate use of force is that which is required to protect oneself from the coercion and/or harm of others. All other use of force is illegal. But man soon saw that he was limited in his ability to protect himself and saw cooperation with other men as the solution. Thus was born society (or the state) as an artificial, man-made institution formed among cooperating individuals to more perfectly secure their natural rights of life, liberty, and property.

The Limits of State Action

The state, as a creation of man, cannot possess any rightful powers that do not come from man. Since man can delegate only his rightful power to self-protection, the state can lawfully exercise only this power and no more. Furthermore, since the state is a product of man, it is not an institution with any rights that are not rightfully man’s in the absence of the state. Therefore, there is no conflict at all between the free, harmless exercise of man’s rights as an individual and the state’s legitimate exercise of those delegated rights. Since there can be no conflict, any action of the state to interfere with man’s exercise of his harmless rights is unlawful. Thus, The Law, in all its majesty and rightly understood, flows from man’s inalienable rights for the better securing of his life, liberty, and property.

Absent from this irrefutable, logical understanding of man’s relationship to the state is the right of the state to force man to do something that man, as an individual, could not do legally himself. Therefore, since man, as an individual, cannot force his fellow men to behave in certain ways or contribute their wealth for the benefit of others, the state itself exercises no lawful right to do so.

All of this is embedded deeply in America’s Declaration of Independence and codified into law via our magnificent Constitution. These documents of our nation’s founding are all that the common man needs in order to evaluate for himself when the state has overstepped its bounds and has become a tyrant rather than his servant. Nowhere in either document can be found the right of the state to force one man to be another’s keeper or even to force men to adopt behaviors “for their own good”, such as cessation from smoking, gambling, drinking, etc. No single man has this power and, therefore, it is impossible for the state ever to get this power legally. It can exercise this power only illegally, its beguiling sophistry to the contrary.

Thusly may we evaluate the Obama administration’s healthcare proposals—or any other governmental proposal, for that matter--from an ethical and legal standpoint. Since I may not legally force my fellow man to stop smoking, when it does no harm to me or anyone else, the state has no right to do so either. Furthermore, since I may not force my fellow man to pay for my healthcare or anyone else’s, the state may not do so. Utilitarian arguments over the shame that many in our society do not possess healthcare insurance--or any other desirable good, such as food or housing—carry no legal right to force us to provide such healthcare or any other necessity of life. Furthermore, utilitarian arguments—legitimate, in my opinion—over the likely adverse consequences of the socialization of healthcare, are irrelevant to the proposal in a free society. Those who call for such measures are willing to abandon freedom and turn their backs on the natural rights of their fellow man. In my opinion this is a monstrously tyrannical ethical position and, therefore, we need discuss the socialization of healthcare no further.

1 comment:

  1. May I suggest the CIVITAS book putting patients last. Every American Senator and Congressman should read it before they find out just how expensive free medicine is.