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Health Care Brain Death

When I read Thomas Sowell's The Vision of the Anointed, I didn't think much of his mantra, that all societal reform is based upon unavoidable tragic trade-offs, rather than fix-all solutions. It was clearly the product of a Stoic, not Christian, worldview, and I was appalled that Christian leaders that I knew readily espoused it.

While my concern about the larger worldview issue remains, I am forced to admit that perhaps Sowell was right about the need to remind the American people of the simple principle of logic that there's, in the ordinary course of political events, no free lunch. Indeed, I was reminded in such a forceful way that I almost concluded that the time has surely come for America to drop the silly charade of government by the people, when the people in question are clearly mentally unqualified to exercise such government. At the same time, I found myself actually taken aback at the extent of American selfishness, which is a pretty remarkable occurrence, given that I'm scarcely one to harbor rosy illusions about the American social conscience.


All these reactions were prompted by a delightful little article I stumbled across: "Americans fret over health overhaul costs." The article begins unexcitingly by stating "Americans are worried about hidden costs in the fine print of health care overhaul legislation, an Associated Press poll says." Oh really? Well, that's hardly surprising given that the legislation's about 2,000 pages long. No doubt there's lots of fine print and hidden costs. Well...turns out, that's not what the article's about...indeed, the matters for concern never even get down to the level of the large print of the legislation, but stay in the realm of elemental logic, which apparently is now a bit too much for the inebriated consumerist American mind to grasp. The poll found that "When poll questions were framed broadly, the answers seemed to indicate ample support for Obama's goals. When required trade-offs were brought into the equation, opinions shifted — sometimes dramatically." Sowell's right to an extent...in political policies, there will generally be tradeoffs, at least when viewed from the perspective of individual goods. Apparently, many Americans had not paused to consider this fact. Here's a couple of the "hidden costs" that the poll found turned people off.

Turns out that most Americans do not support a ban on denying coverage to patients with pre-existing conditions. Seriously? I thought everyone thought that such a practice was wicked! Well, yeah, 82% of people want to get rid of it. But....
"In the AP poll, when told that such a ban would probably cause most people to pay more for health insurance, 43 percent said they would still support doing away with pre-existing condition denials, but 31 percent said they would oppose it."

No! Seriously? Wait, let me see if I've got this right...requiring insurance companies to insure people with pre-existing conditions would mean higher premiums? I can't believe it! Well, apparently half of the American populace had trouble grasping this concept.

But this next one was my personal favourite:
"Asked if everyone should be required to have at least some health insurance, 67 percent agreed and 27 percent said no.
The responses flipped when people were asked about requiring everybody to carry insurance or face a federal penalty: 64 percent said they would be opposed, while 28 percent favored that." Now, hang on a moment....You're telling me that 67% of Americans want everyone to be required to have health insurance, but only 28% want them to be penalized for not having it? Now, just exactly what did the other 39% have in mind by "require"? Perhaps a moral exhortation: "Congress strongly encourages the American people to buy health insurance. We would be greatly displeased if they did not." Or more like guidelines, really: "Everyone is required to have health insurance. But, who's to say exactly what this means...as long as you sorta have it...or intend to have it...I guess that's alright." I suppose this same 39% thinks that speed limits ought to be enforced exclusively by admonitions, without the traffic tickets that might infringe our liberty.

Of course, the problem is that this is not "just a poll." Our government is a government by the poll, for the poll, and of the poll. Before any conceivable political decision is made, the American people are first asked their opinion, and then asked over and over and over again to see if they might have changed their minds (or acquired minds, perhaps). Every politician keeps one ear pressed firmly to the keyhole of public opinion, not daring to do any independent thinking or leading. Unfortunately, public opinion hasn't done much in the way of thinking either, which means that, if politicians are relying on the American people to think for them, we are approaching a critical condition of brain death in American public life.

Perhaps more frightening than the loss of the powers of rationality--of theoretical reason--among our populace is the loss of our powers of practical reason, our moral sensibilities. A young woman named Kate Kuhn (no relation, I trust, to the famed philosopher of science) is quoted as representative of the American mentality on the health care issue: "Well, for one, I know nobody wants to pay taxes for anybody else to go to the doctor — I don't....I don't want to pay for somebody to use my money that I could be using for myself." Aside from the logical problem (isn't that kinda what all health insurance is all about? Me paying for other people to get medical care, so that, when I too need medical care, their money will help pay for my care?) such a sentiment is morally reprehensible. Note that she did not say "I don't want to pay taxes for anybody else to go to the doctor; I think taxes to the government are an inefficient way of making sure people get the health care they need." Nor did she say, "I don't want to pay taxes for anybody else to go to the doctor; I'd rather support smaller organizations like churches to provide for that." No, it's "I don't want to pay taxes for anybody else to go to the doctor, because I don't want somebody to use money that I could be using for myself." Consider actually sacrificing some of my own considerable resources to provide for the urgent needs of another human being? Come on, man! What ever happened to American self-reliance? Let them pay for their own darn medical bills.

I could say again, "How the glory hath departed" but I tend to be a skeptic that there ever was such glory in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

3 comments:

Great post. I have to agree with you on the pitiable state of American reason, both theoretical and moral. Which is kind of scary...

November 18, 2009 at 12:31 AM  

Once again, Facebook has proven to be a much more interesting market than the blog.

November 20, 2009 at 2:16 AM  

Yep. Well, I wouldn't get anything done if I had to reply to that many comments on every post here, given that I post here about once a day, and there once a month.

November 21, 2009 at 12:44 AM  

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