The road to serfdom

By Steve Bowen | Jul 04, 2009

The ongoing debate over the proper approach to reforming the nation’s health care system is of far more importance to lovers of liberty than at first it may appear.

The bulk of the debate thus far has revolved around the cost and efficacy of proposed reforms. The leading proposal now before Congress, for instance, is sponsored by Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. It would, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, cost more than $1 trillion over the next 10 years “and still leave millions without insurance.” Whether so costly and ineffective an approach is the right course to take will be thoroughly debated in the weeks ahead.

Unfortunately, there is likely to be less talk about whether running the nation’s health care system is even something that government should be doing – whether it is the proper role of government.

That is a discussion the nation needs to have.

The push for a government takeover of the nation’s health care system is, after all, part of a much broader effort to turn the United States into a European-style socialist state. Already, the United States has had, for years, European-style pension and health programs for retirees, and has a robust set of anti-poverty programs that provide direct welfare payments, food stamps, health care, fuel assistance, child care and other services.

Evidently, all of this is not enough.

A group called Maine Equal Justice Partners is pushing for what they call “economic human rights.” According to the group, these include “the right [emphasis theirs] to quality health care; a job or income, living wages, equal pay, and the ability to join a union; affordable housing; adequate and nutritional food; free education; and a decent standard of living.”

The questions this concept raises are almost endless. Who, exactly, is to provide these things? Who is to decide what constitutes a living wage, affordable housing, adequate and nutritional food, or a decent standard of living? Does free education mean as much college and graduate school as you want? If not, who decides when you’ve had enough? For that matter, who decides whether you should have to take a job, or just receive income from the rest of us?

And who, by the way, is going to pay for all this?

The answer to most of these questions, of course, is government. As envisioned by supporters of the economic human rights concept, government would decide who has adequate food and who does not, government would operate programs to provide for these needs, and government would pay for it all by compelling tax payments from those who, in its judgment, already have enough health care, housing, food and so forth.

Is the standard of living that you and your family enjoy decent enough? The government will decide.

Implementation of economic human rights, of which health care would be a major part, would necessitate an unprecedented intrusion by government into the lives and affairs of every person and business in the country.

Ensuring protection for the right to a living wage, for instance, would mean forcing businesses to pay whatever amount of salary the government decides their employees need, regardless of the value of the labor those employees provide. Assessing that need would require government to calculate the amount each household spends on items the government considers to be necessary for a decent standard of living. Government would thus need to establish standards for standard of living against which each household would have to be measured.

If you think the Census Bureau asks too many nosy questions now, just wait!

To assess whether your food is adequate and nutritious, government will have to know what you eat. To find out whether your housing is affordable, government will have to know how much you pay in rent or mortgage for the housing you have now. To decide whether you have the right to a job, or merely the right to income, government will have to know what kind of work, if any, you are capable of doing. That will involve an assessment of your health, of course, which will be no problem since your health status will have to be cataloged by government to ensure that you have quality health care.

Once government knows all these things, it will then have to compel others, by force, to accommodate your economic rights. Someone will be forced to give you a job, someone else will be forced to provide you with health care, and still others will be forced to provide you with housing, food, education and whatever else is necessary to ensure that your right to a decent standard of living is upheld.

Undoubtedly, there are people who believe that all of this -- the intrusive government snooping, the meddlesome government regulations, the extensive use of government force and the endless expansion of government power -- is perfectly fine. They have no problem whatsoever with surrendering any number of personal freedoms and individual liberties in order to have their material wants satisfied by government.

There are many of us, however, who would rather government simply leave us alone so we can provide for our own food, housing, education and income, thank you very much. We are happy to help those in need, but we are not prepared to surrender our personal liberties in order to do so -- to bow down and, in the immortal words of Samuel Adams, lick the hand that feeds us.

Surrendering our freedom, though, is what the push for government-run health care is all about. It is about taking from you and your family and giving to government bureaucrats the power to decide what medical treatments you will be permitted to receive.

Discussions about the cost and efficacy of various health reform proposals are important, but not as important, in many ways, as the discussion we are not having, about the steady erosion of individual rights and liberties that always accompanies the expansion of government power.
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