Health Care, Hayek and Freedom

“The constitution was thus conceived as a protection of the people against all arbitrary action, on the part of the legislative as well as the other branches of government.  A constitution which in such manner is to limit government must contain what in effect are substantive rules…It must lay down general principles which are to govern the acts of the appointed legislature.”

So wrote Friedrich Hayek in "The Constitution of Liberty" a half century ago. He went on to say that:  “A group of men normally become a society not by giving themselves laws but by obeying the same rules of conduct. This means that the power of the majority is limited by those commonly held principles and that there is no legitimate power beyond them.”  It is sad that Congress celebrated the 50th anniversary of Hayek’s work by ignoring any pretense that its power is limited. It is clear the Obama administration and the Democrat majority in Congress does not feel that the temporary majority is to be bound by any general principle other than “do you have the votes.”  The 2000+page health care bill goes so far beyond what this country was founded on that it is difficult to know where to begin.

The bill is meant to involve the federal government in every nook and cranny of American life. Employers are told by their government what benefits they must provide employees.  If we accept the proposition that the majority may tell employers and employees what their benefit package is, then where is the limitation that restricts this to health care?  If the auto insurance companies have sufficient lobbying power, then we will be told that our benefit package must include auto insurance as well.  And why not require employers to provide membership in health clubs, or country clubs? I personally would prefer season tickets to University of Michigan basketball games.

Health insurance companies may not deny coverage to people with a preexisting condition.  Once we accept the principle that government may do this, then why stop with health insurance?  We should require the same of life insurance companies.  The fact that the insured is already dead should not be a barrier to purchasing life insurance on them.  Nor should auto insurance companies be able to deny coverage to those whose car is already in an accident.  But of course we will eventually require everyone to purchase such insurance and will have solved the problem.

Since the bill requires everyone to purchase health insurance themselves, or have it provided by their employer, we must have adopted the general principle that the majority may at any time require us to purchase any product or service. Where is the constitutional barrier that separates the federal government’s ability to require me to buy health insurance from its ability to require me to purchase an automobile and in particular a General Motors automobile?

As Hayek points out, this country was founded upon the principle that government does not have arbitrary power.  The 10th amendment to our constitution clarifies that the federal government has only enumerated powers:  “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”  Each Congressman, Senator, and the President swore an oath to uphold the Constitution.  Voting for or signing this health care bill is hard to square with such an oath. 

We are in grave danger of abandoning liberty completely in the false hope of finding cheaper health care.  Once we have traveled down this road we and our children will have lost the freedom upon which our social order is based.  Perhaps we can use this crisis as an opportunity to do renew the awareness of the importance of freedom.  As Hayek put it in the opening of his classic work: “If old truths are to retain their hold on men’s minds, they must be restated in the language and concepts of successive generations…It has been a long time since that ideal of freedom which inspired modern Western civilization and whose partial realization made possible the achievements of that civilization was effectively restated.”  Now is the time.