Individual Mandates

The Left is not handling the Florida ruling against ObamaCare terribly well.  They’ve tried portraying Judge Roger Vinson’s ruling as a case of “judicial activism on steroids,” to quote Health Care for America Now director Ethan Rome.  As blogger RB at The Right Sphere points out, this is an Orwellian inversion of the actual meaning of “judicial activism,” because Vinson dared to rule in favor of the Constitution, and against something “progressives” badly want the government to do.  He wasn’t fooling around with penumbras and emanations.  He slipped on a polarized lens and looked right into the stellar core of the Constitution itself.

Media liberals have tried to pretend the Vinson ruling is a minor obstacle, when in truth it kills ObamaCare stone dead, until and unless the Supreme Court overturns the ruling.  Perhaps they were trying to provide some cover for the Obama Administration, which has decided to once again ignore a federal court ruling it doesn’t like.  I wonder how many times the media would have let President John McCain get away with that.

Aside from complaining about “activism,” the Left hasn’t much to say about the actual ruling, because there is no way to reconcile the “individual mandate” concept with Constitutional liberty.  If the federal government can require citizens to purchase a product that has gained political favor, there is no real limit to its power.  To prove the point, lawmakers in South Dakota have introduced legislation to force citizens to purchase a firearm.  It’s not a perfect satire, since the South Dakota legislature is not the federal government, but it’s grabbed some attention. 

The logic behind the individual mandate is that health care is a collective responsibility.  Everyone needs health care, society will not allow those who cannot afford it to perish, and the old system of cost-shifting was an expensive and wasteful method of providing care to the indigent.  The Constitution was not meant as a negotiable obstacle to social engineering, so even if the above premises are granted, it doesn’t follow that individual liberty can be discarded to allocate medical resources more efficiently.  Leave that aside for a moment, and ask: why are all of these premises not equally true of food?

More people will die, much more rapidly, without food than health care.  The need for food is far more universal – there are many people who go for years without needing medical attention, and some get through an entire lifetime without it.  Society would no more tolerate the destitute dying of hunger in the streets than we would sit idly and watch them die from a plague.

The only difference between health care and food distribution is that food is relatively cheap and easy to come by in modern America.  The cost of food is a constant, low expense.  It’s consumed daily on a universal basis, and distributed that way.  Logical thought about health care is disrupted because the expense is severe and unpredictable.  Also, people think of health care expenditures as a penalty, not the purchase of a product.  A thousand dollars spent on food is a banquet, while a thousand spent on medicine is a stiff fine, assessed by the random cruelty of biology.

By violating Constitutional liberty with the “individual mandate”, we also distort market forces, and produce another grey slop served at the pleasure of politicians, to a public that no longer understands the recipe.  I doubt Americans would countenance a society that made absolutely no health-care provisions for the indigent, but we should insist the government make those provisions honestly, and identify them as the welfare program they are.  That way, we can audit the performance of the program, hold its management accountable, and be clear about the cost.  Health “insurance” should be a product voluntarily purchased by individuals, in a competitive market that grows stronger through the energetic pursuit of their business. 

The recognition of liberty is an act of respect, which free men demand from their government.  It is not a luxury to be discarded when the State decides mandates are necessary, because other demands are more important.  This is an issue of both ethics and practicality.  There are places in the world where the State manages food distribution, after all.  I invite you to judge the results for yourself.