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Commentary: 'Trust the People'

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 6, 2009 - We Big Meanie Republicans / Libertarians / Conservatives lean back and scratch our heads. We look at the idea of national health care and cannot for our lives figure out why anyone would want it.

I offer a three-word political philosophy: "Trust the People."

Voluntary immigrants came here because they were living under cruel oppressive governments and they thought America's great historic bargain offered a better deal. The historic bargain was simple: Each citizen is responsible for his own life, and so must suffer through his dips, but in exchange he gets to live life by his own drummer. If he achieves financial success, he can keep his winnings. There is no promise of equality of outcome, but there is a promise of rough parity of chance.

Setting aside the theological, this is history's greatest deal. Thomas Jefferson's three wise words, "pursuit of happiness," perfectly capture the idea of individual opportunity.

But let's dig deeper.

At the individual level, the American bargain assumes each citizen is a capable person who can run his or her own life. He or she can solve life's mundane problems such as how to get paid for work today to get dinner tonight, and he also can solve life's more sublime problems such as how to educate his children and how to think about the origins of humanity.

At the societal level the bargain assumes the people themselves are perfectly capable of setting up government to provide protection from domestic and foreign predators, to put in place infrastructure, i.e. roads, sewers and parks and to resolve civil disputes. (I leave the truly disabled for another day). In short, the bargain rejects top down management from kings, dictators and other unchecked power mad kooks.

Seen in the context of "Trust the People," the health-care debate is no debate at all. By axiom, each person should be responsible for his own health. Free people acting without a nanny government will invent and take advantages of things like cures for lymphoma and private insurance systems. Some will get better care than others, but as stated above the bargain does not promise equality of outcome.

If left alone, our people, one-by-one, by voluntary interaction and by the miracle of the price mechanism, will figure out "the right amount" of health care both on an individual basis and on a societal basis.

To those who say my approach ignores the poor, I say you are the ultimate elitists, because you deny the poor the chance to succeed through individual ingenuity and hard work. America has watched the creation of an enormous middle class. That is a good record. There is no reason the poor cannot make the grind upward. There is nothing terminally hopeless about any human being.

Let me challenge three potential explanations as to why the left supports government controlled health care.


The first explanation, and this one is benign (at least in intent), is compassion. "Enlightened" individuals perhaps feel compassion for the underclass. They believe it makes sense for the middle class to tax itself to take care of the poor. Perhaps these compassionate types are particularly drawn to health care because health care is occasionally a matter of life and death and often at least mission critical.

But even if I concede, just for the sake of argument, that national health care would help the poor, the next appropriate question is whether it is worth it? I say "No."

By creating this public-health program, we will take away the downside of the bargain for those who fail to care for themselves, but we also eventually take away the upside for all. Taxing society's winners to benefit society's losers is a negative sum game. The citizenry eventually loses the incentive to strive to win, and then everyone is a loser. Dictatorship eventually creeps in.

The compassion argument thus fails to recognize that (a) if we take away the risk of the downside eventually we take away the risk of the upside, and (b) we will end up in the gulag.


The second explanation, and this one is cynical, is that public health care will offer sweet jobs for friends and family of the powerful.

Wander around government offices. Talk to those who work for the government. This is a system that is marvelous at providing government paychecks but not so good at keeping costs down and getting the job done.

National health care will produce tens of thousands of jobs for friends and family of those in power. I have a sneaking suspicion that most supporters envision themselves and their children as running the system or at least having a decent job in the system, and do not envision themselves as waiting in line for months to get a doctor to perform a routine procedure.

Health-care advocates, if the plan goes through, will have a rude awakening when they need good fast individualized care. (Note to self: Win a congressional seat. Members of Congress will, of course, ensure the best care of all for themselves.)


The third explanation, and this one is insidious, is that politicians support public health care to buy votes. They do this even knowing it will be bad for our nation. To get votes they promise goodies to the masses, purportedly to be paid for by "the rich."

Each cycle the politicians make more promises and deliver more goodies. This is summarized by the six word phrase: "Tax Tax, Spend Spend, Elect Elect." Each politician competes to out-promise the others. At the end, however, "Tax Tax, Spend Spend, Elect Elect" will spell the end of the American bargain. "Tax Tax, Spend Spend, Elect Elect" is the worst gambit of all.

As citizens accept more and more goodies, they become more and more dependent on their fellow citizens, and so cease to be responsible for themselves. They lose the zest for life, which comes from bearing risk. Worst of all, instead of embracing the bargain, they fear the bargain because they have ceased believing in themselves. Is that the country we want?

Public health care is a step on the road to living under the very system our voluntary immigrant forebears fled.

Look in the mirror. Would you rather live in a world with much security, little risk, little chance to get rich, little chance for creative expression (for that always is taken away), and eventual dictatorship including cruel police and a gulag to back it up, or would you rather live in a world where you are responsible for yourself, you get to keep the money you earn, some people have nothing but you can help them with charity and, most importantly, each person can express his or her creative juices? We trend one way or the other, and over time we can't have it both ways.

We are abandoning the great American bargain a pinch at a time. A little social security here. A little pharmacy bounce there. Suddenly now maybe a big health care benefit.

Let's say no to national health care.

Let's keep the great American bargain.

Let's have a system emphasizing individual by individual pursuit of happiness.

Let's take a chance on ourselves.

Let's "Trust the People."

There is nowhere left to emigrate.

Bevis Schock is an attorney in private practice in Clayton.