Column on From Health Care to Tyranny

From Health Care to Tyranny

Tibor R. Machan

Once government takes over the health care and health insurance provision system in a country, it is very easy to move on toward a regime of practically total micromanagement of the citizenry’s life.

Do you remember when helmet laws began to be enacted and there were those motorcyclists who protested? Their pitch was simply, "We love to feel the wind in our faces and our hair; we associate it with freedom. Do not rob us of this feeling."

"Ah," came back the quite predictable answer, "but you are driving on public roads where government is the boss. Moreover, any mishap on public roads leads to some county hospital where the government usually picks up the bill for the medical care you receive. So don’t whine to us about your freedom when we, the government, pay the bills for your indulgences."

Now since there are very few private roads and highways available to people where they might pay an extra premium to cover the risk of a traffic mishap, this argument has initial plausibility. Also, if you take seriously the connection between property ownership and responsibility, then so long as governments own the roads, they will have to be responsible for how these roads are managed, for keeping down costs, etc., etc. How then could you defend the liberty of some wild motorcyclists to abstain from taking care to be as safe as possible?

Well, once government takes over the total health care system, as the current administration would like it to–always, of course, out of a sense of public service, doing good to everyone, never out of a desire to wield power over anyone–the idea that you ought to be free to eat as you choose, to exercise or not, to dress warmly or not so warmly winter or summer–all this will no longer plausibly be something that must be up to the citizenry. Their near total dependence on government will have rendered them children of the state who need to answer to their politicians and bureaucrats on all matters that could relate to their health.

I can already see us all being herded out on various parade grounds and sports fields, like those millions of North Koreans in their blue pajamas in our day and those millions of Germans under the rule of the Third Reich or Young Pioneers under the Soviets, so that we keep as fit as we can and avoid imposing the cost of any possible health problems on the public that is footing the bill for the care and insurance. Any protests that this may well be a massive extension of governmental power over the citizenry will readily be met with the retort, "Well, but you asked for it when you accepted government’s provision for your physical well being." Similar retorts are being made already to complaints about bans on smoking–"Just consider who will be paying your medical bills when smoking will have taken its toll on your health! We cannot let this be. He who pays the piper…." Well, you know the rest.

There are numerous lies involved in such retorts, starting with the one about having asked for it. Maybe some folks are asking to have their medical care be handled by government but a whole lot of them are being threatened with being pressed into such a system, like it or not. Then there is the issue of not everyone being better of by being supervised about health care and insurance matters–they are managing it just fine themselves. But the most important lie is that using public facilities like roads and highways implies having given up one’s liberty.

Certainly not everyone is choosing to make use of those facilities; they were imposed on us by ancient habits of thought and practices that took it for granted that government is the sole possible provider of roads and highways. And even if it were, there was no package deal involved–"You provide the roads and highways and now you get to rule us to your heart’s content!" The idea of limited government, so much a part of the American political tradition, was meant precisely to rebuff such package deals. Yes, some government, a little bit of it, but by no means total rule! This is not some benign dictatorship we have here in these United States of America, no paternalistic monarchy, no nanny state, even! Some few matters have been left to government to manage, maybe not wisely but only from the governmental habit that hasn’t quite been given up. Maybe it is also a huge confusion between government as the protector of our rights and government as dictator of our way of life!

But mark my words–soon we will have more and more, even Draconian, intrusion, shortly after the health care and insurance systems have been appropriated by those people. One may well wonder, with the young Anne Frank, "I wonder how they let people like them grow so powerful?"

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