With Obamacare Back In The News

Modern Medical Care is a Blessing Not a Right

As last year’s health reform bill again permeates our public discourse many pundits have highlighted how socializing medicine will exacerbate our already precarious budget concerns. Much was also written regarding the evasion of public sentiment when Congress employed especially repugnant procedural tactics. While these aspects ridicule the hypocrisy of our elected representatives, they are secondary.

Healthcare is not a right. It’s a blessing.  Medical treatment or more specifically how we finance it, cannot be considered an unalienable right. It’s a form of consumption. Your right to own a car does not assure that you can afford a car. Politicians want to pervert our natural right to seek healthcare into a positive right whereby government shall guaranty such services.

We don’t have a right to good health. We do have a right to live how best we know to improve our health, but we didn’t pop out of the womb with a divine guaranty of ease and comfort. Nor can the state offer such.

One person’s misfortune doesn’t constitute government’s obligation. A problem aggravated by social programs is the entitlement attitudes they engender. That government somehow bears responsibility to remove the pain and hardship from life. Unfortunately, Americans have grown inured to statist “solutions” and now flock to politicians who promise Utopian fantasies.

Politicians may transform luxuries like advanced medical care into rights, but they can’t make healthcare free.  They can filter medicine through an all powerful bureaucracy and disguise its high costs, but government cannot guaranty one’s treatment without confiscating other citizens’ property.

James Madison, honored as the “Father of the Constitution,” reminded, “I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on the objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.” Demagogues rely on the sanction of the crowd to portray their mischief as compassion, but redistributing others’ property in exchange for votes lays up no treasures in heaven. Only voluntary charity counts.

That socializing healthcare is blatantly unconstitutional hardly entails moral approbation. America’s system of governance was predicated on the rule of law prevailing over the rule of men.  Few domestic responsibilities were entrusted to the central government and as the Bill of Rights makes certain, Washington remains limited to only those powers specifically enumerated.

If some states opt to socialize healthcare, that is their choice. I would vote against it and move if it passed, but this illustrates the evil of leviathan central governments. If Washington imposes this debacle, where can we go? Choice has been stunted.  Access to healthcare will thence forward be at politicians’ pleasure.

Where does Congress derive its moral authority to assume this role?  Part of it is the supposed immorality of profit based healthcare.  But private health providers do not gain from patient misery as we’re told in haunting language.  They profit from relieving said misery and there is nothing immoral from getting paid to better people’s lives. 

Andrew Carnegie observed, “Capitalism is about turning luxuries into necessities.” Politicians now distort such advancements into “rights,” but modern healthcare can’t be an unalienable right. It didn’t even exist for most of history and still doesn’t for most of the world. What we’re capable of healing today dwarfs what we could mend only decades back.

Half of all babies used to die at birth or soon thereafter.  Approximately three quarters of everyone who has ever lived died before the age of 35. We now take for granted blessings that would amaze our ancestors. Modern finance affords these advances to a broader spectrum, yet progressives belittle the free market which brought forth such gains.

That some can purchase more healthcare than others evidences that many are extremely fortunate, not that some are deprived. John D. Rockefeller couldn’t afford healthcare of the quality available to common laborers today. Even the homeless have access through emergency rooms to treatments unavailable to kings of yore. This hardly reflects deprivation. It does highlight that Americans are exceedingly blessed even as many amongst us exhibit ingratitude over rising prices or covet the care others enjoy.

Should healthcare become socialized, progress will likely slow. It will inevitably lead to higher costs (even if less visible) and poorer service.  Technologies and treatments will stagnate.  European social democracies are plagued by doctor shortages, long waits and unsanitary conditions. The overwhelming preponderance of new drugs and other treatments arise in the US where producers are still rewarded. Eliminating the profit motive will thwart progress.

Enabling people who choose to purchase other products, or who truly can’t afford health insurance, to partake anyway reflects a trade.  If everyone consumes advanced medicine today, we will lose much of our ability to enjoy even better healthcare down the road. Futurity will be crushed paying for today’s largesse, which will further inhibit progress.

Economically, socialized healthcare is insane.  Medicare wastes about $60 billion in annual fraud, far more than the entire health insurance industry makes in annual profits. The GAO estimates that 1/3 of all Medicare purchases for durable goods are dishonest or inappropriate.  New York has the highest Medicaid rate and approximately 40% goes to false claims.  Entitlements of $2 trillion, much spent on what’s already socialized in medicine, grow ferociously and threaten to explode as Baby Boomers retire.

However, as what remains private in healthcare is somewhat rationed by personal finances, increasing the state’s role will transition the rationing into being determined by politics. Utilitarianism is far more devious than people foregoing treatment because they can’t afford it.

The availability of specific drugs, treatments, hospitals and so on will soon fall prey to lobbying, corruption and rent-seeking considerations. Look at the tax code. Powerful politicians will enact better treatment for their favored constituents. Do we really want to put our access to medicine in the imminently corruptible administration of government sinecures?

Capitalism offers freedom and this is its best attribute even surpassing the undeniable material opulence it generates. If you prefer Ford and I prefer Toyota so what? You buy a Ford and I’ll buy a Toyota. But central planners are incapable of eliciting our preferences suitably to offer such choices. When bureaucrats make decisions, brand selection doesn’t entail individual choice guided by personalities and price points. Politics prevails. Oppression will follow.

Politicians rarely keep their promises, especially when offering chimerical absurdities like more encompassing healthcare at higher quality for less cost. Something must give. The history of government power is rarely benign.

Those clamoring for health reform as “social justice” must remember that states have proved history’s most frequent purveyors of injustice. Paraphrasing Augustine, “What is a kingdom without justice but a gang of criminals on a vast scale?”  Politicians who defy the Constitution to which they swear subservience clearly lack justice.  

If we’re going to dramatically alter the character of our Constitution to mandate government provision of health insurance, we should begin with something that’s actually in the Constitution.  Unlike healthcare, the right to bear arms is specified as a check against government encroachment. Therefore, following liberal reasoning, if anyone can’t afford a gun, then the government should arm them.

As a former marine T.O.W. gunner, I’ll take a new missile system!



Note this article has been updated/revised. It was originally published on RealClearMarkets as –

Healthcare Is a Good, Not a Natural RightMarch 3, 2010

Other work by this author.