Notes From Babel

Health Care Reform and Driving Away the Object of Our Covetousness

with 2 comments

Would if our present predicament were like what threatened democratic peoples in early industrial history, where folks tended towards political apathy in order to avail themselves of the flood of opportunities in the market:

There is, in fact, a very perilous passage in the life of democratic peoples.

When the taste for material enjoyments develops in one of these peoples more rapidly than enlightenment and the habits of freedom, there comes a moment when men are swept away and almost beside themselves at the sight of the new goods that they are ready to grasp.  Preoccupied with the sole care of making a fortune, they no longer perceive the tight bond that unites the particular fortune of each of them to the prosperity of all.  There is no need to tear from such citizens the rights they possess; they themselves willingly allow them to escape.  The exercise of their political duties appears to them a distressing contretemps that distracts them from their industry. If it is a question of choosing their representatives, of giving assistance to authority, of treating the common thing in common, they lack the time; they cannot waste their precious time in useless work.  These are games of the idle that do not suit grave men occupied with the serious interests of life.  These people believe they are following the doctrine of interest, but they have only a coarse idea of it, and to watch better over what they call their affairs, they neglect the principal one, which is to remain masters of themselves.

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Univ. Chicago Press, 2002  (Mansfield and Winthrop, eds.) at 515 (emphasis added).

Instead, our situation is inversed.  Where early American life was characterized as a whirlwind of productive activity, and where an American’s political energies were threatened with all manners of distraction by the unending surge of economic opportunities presented to him, today we throw up our arms in despair at the idea that something so trivial as economic reality should deny us any of the fruits of free human industry.  Faced with this frustration, we cease to explore the opportunities our freedom provides, and instead explore what might be yielded through the force that democracy provides.   After all, one’s lot may be rendered the greater if, through his vote, he renders his fellow’s less.  And the yield of his labor likewise will increase if he can, again through his vote, force his vendors to accept less of his yields for more of theirs in return.

In this way, we find ourselves at the same evil in the relationship between industry and political will that Tocqueville described immediately before the passage quoted above:

The nature of absolute power in democratic centuries is neither cruel nor savage, but it is minute and vexatious.  Although despotism of this kind does not ride roughshod over humanity, it is directly opposed to the genius of commerce and the instincts of industry.

Thus men of democratic times need to be free in order to procure more easily for themselves the material enjoyments for which they constantly sight.

It sometimes happens, however, that the excessive taste they conceive for these same enjoyments delivers them to the first master who presents himself.  The passion for well-being is then turned against itself and, without perceiving it, drives away the object of its covetousness.

Id.

We are now closer than ever to making this philosophical shift away from the traditional American industrial model vis-a-vis health care, and to unwittingly “driv[ing] away the object of [our] covetousness.”  With the plan now passed by the House—with a cost estimated as high as $3 trillion to re-appropriated from one group of Americans to another—something like 15% of America’s economy is threatened with becoming the subject of political sentiment rather than industrial and productive realities.  We are prepared to take the products of a free industry by force—to presume to instruct a tree how high and in what seasons it may bear its fruit—to have our fill of the medical miracles produced as a result of decades of free innovation.  And we are prepared to paralyze the potential for future innovation in order to force down costs and redirect resources as politicians see fit.  Like so many other zombified countries before us, we are strapping on bibs as we prepare to feast on the health care industry’s lifeless corpse.

Here’s hoping the health care bill dies in the Senate.

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Written by Tim Kowal

November 8, 2009 at 12:47 pm

2 Responses

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  1. […] If it is a question of choosing their representatives, of giving assistance to authority, of treating the common thing in common, they lack the time; they cannot waste their precious time in useless work. These are games of the idle that … These people believe they are following the doctrine of interest, but they have only a coarse idea of it, and to watch better over what they call their affairs, they neglect the principal one, which is to remain masters of themselves. …More Here […]

  2. […] shelf since my second year of law school.  Prompted a lot of blog posts: here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and my favorite one […]


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