Friday, December 27, 2013

A meandering manifesto

One line of argument (loosely speaking) that I’ve seen popping up around the Internet consists of supporters of ObamaCare accusing those who are currently insured in the individual market and are complaining about ObamaCare making their situations worse, of being selfish. Or, as one commenter at that recent Megan Mcardle post put it, we’re “hard hearted” for ignoring the “thousands - maybe hundreds of thousands - who can’t get health insurance preACA, who can now”.

It took a few iterations of this for me to realize that I was starting to feel defensive and guilty for wanting to buy what I prefer with my own money. Once I did realize it, I got exasperated with myself and wrote in response to that commenter:

I absolutely support doing something to help people who are too poor to afford health care. (Pre-existing conditions are a little trickier. In some circumstances, yes, I support providing help. However, if an adult who could have afforded health insurance decided to gamble and not get it, I don't think other policy holders should have to pay for her treatment when she gets sick and *then* decides she needs health insurance.) If you had asked me 3 years ago if I'd throw an extra $1000 in the pot every year to help poor people get health care, I would have said yes. But the ACA asks me and many more like me to throw extra money in the pot and get worse (for me) health insurance and have fewer choices in health insurance and pay a fine/tax if I don't want to spend the extra money for worse health insurance. Not being a saint, I'm angry about that. Not being a supporter of government coercion, I'm opposed to that.

I'm especially opposed to it because there are much better (and much simpler) ways to have helped the uninsured and the people who passed this bill decided against all of them and went the ACA route instead. I'm especially angry about it because a lot of the people who think I should be happily willing to get a worse deal to help others have employer-sponsored health insurance and, oddly, don't seem eager to opt out of that insurance and buy on the individual market in order to help with the helping out.

In retrospect, I would have left off the first three sentences. They’re everything up through "I would have said yes." That's absolutely true for me but they give it gives too much legitimacy to the idea that other people, who don’t want to spend money to help the poor buy health insurance, are, in fact, selfish or hard-hearted. They aren’t. They’re just people who would rather spend their money on something else and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s their money, after all.

Also, after writing that comment, I realized that there was nothing stopping me three years ago - or 30 years ago - from putting together a group of like-minded people, having each of us throw $1000 in the pot each year, and helping poor people buy health insurance. That realization, and the fact that I did nothing of the kind, brought home to me just how much I tend to see government action as the appropriate way to handle issues like this - notwithstanding my shift from leaning Left to leaning Right.

It took the very personal fall-out from ObamaCare for me to truly understand how and why getting the government involved should always be a rare move of last resort rather than a default position. And for helping me generalize my difficulties with ObamaCare to the larger picture, I’m indebted to two men.

First, Grim for this comment to a post over at the Hall:

If it makes you feel any better, this stomping of the social contract in the name of "Progress!!!" isn't unique. It's a persistent feature of the project. Ask the people whose land is underneath TVA reservoirs. It didn't matter what they wanted, or that their ancestors' graves were laid there. It didn't matter that they'd be reduced from free farmers on their own land to some other way of life they had reason to hate. Their land was in the way of water and power, and whatever it cost them they'd have to move.

For that matter, ask the Apache. How do you live with these people again? I'm not sure they've figured it out yet.

Second, Kevin D. Williamson. I re-read his book, The End Is Near and It’s Going to Be Awesome, and realized I’d pretty much totally missed the point of the book the first time around. I originally read it thinking he had some interesting policy prescriptions. The second time, primed by my close encounter with ObamaCare, I realized he had some interesting ideas about what people might do as individuals or in groups if we are able to - or forced to - stop thinking in terms of government-imposed, fully-specified, one-size-fits-all policies.

Many years ago - 40 or more - I heard a news story about some poor Third World country. The government had decided it needed men to mine something or plant something or build a road or whatever. The government sent troops to a small village out in the middle of nowhere and scooped up all the men and boys who were the right age to do the work. The soldiers left with their captives and no one left in the village knew where the men and boys had been taken or if they would ever come home again.

I was horrified and heart-broken. That government, I was sure, was made up of cruel men who cared nothing for their fellow citizens. It never occurred to me that those men undoubtedly believed that they were doing the best thing for the country as a whole; that the suffering of a few was a fair price to pay for the betterment of many; and that those who opposed them were short-sighted and, quite possibly, selfish and hard-hearted to complain about the plight of a few when so many would benefit.

The damage from ObamaCare is not on the same scale as the damage from that Third World government’s policies, of course, but the shape of it is the same, as it is for the people displaced by the TVA, as it is for all the people whose lives have been disrupted or damaged in the name of progress or the greatest good for the greatest number or simply because those in our government are convinced they know what’s best for every man, woman, and child in the country. The intentions may have been good but the reality is that the government doesn’t know what’s best; the greatest good for the greatest number is an illusion; and progress is something people do, not something government creates. And you know what they say about the road to Hell.

This shift in my outlook feels very odd to me because so much of my blogging has been about what policies I think the government should be imposing. It will take a while for me to rearrange my thinking now that I understand that the lesson of ObamaCare is that the answer to the question, “What’s the best government health care policy, government education policy, government agricultural policy, government energy policy, government whatever policy?” is almost always going to be, “As close to none as possible”.

And if I’m no longer arrogant enough to believe I know what everyone else should be doing, what the heck am I going to blog about? All the people who still are that arrogant?

No comments: