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ObamaCare's moral inversion

By Robert James Bidinotto
web posted September 14, 2009

Underlying the many practical and technical arguments about ObamaCare are clashing moral principles—a fact made unusually clear in this Newsweek essay. The author, T.R. Reid, was speaking with a Canadian who was gloating over his country's nationalized health system, and this exchange ensued:

I agreed that Canada does an admirable job of providing free and prompt care to anybody with an acute medical condition. But for nonemergency cases, the system often provides nothing but a long wait. Last summer I tried to get an appointment with an orthopedist in Canada to treat my aching right shoulder; the waiting time, just for an initial consultation, was 10 months. How could you be proud of that?

"You're right," Davies said frankly. "We keep people waiting, to limit costs. But you have to understand something basic about Canadians. Canadians don't mind waiting for elective care all that much, so long as the rich Canadian and the poor Canadian have to wait about the same amount of time" (emphasis added).

This, then, is the ugly essence of socialized medicine: It is the envy-eaten morality of egalitarianism.

Egalitarianism does not advocate that we earn benefits (or liabilities) according to our individual actions. Unlike capitalism, it does not say, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his productivity." Instead, it advocates, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need." "Need" trumps any other moral consideration— including simple justice—and entitles one to goods and services that he has not produced, but that were produced by others.

Worse: It doesn't even aim to benefit the needy; rather, it aims to humiliate the better-off. As long as nobody is permitted to exceed anyone else in economic status or outcomes, socialists are quite willing to put up with anything, even including horrific medical treatment.

That is the ethic of socialism in a nutshell: It is envy, elevated to the dignity of a political system.

The author of the Newsweek article, clearly a socialist sympathizer himself, then goes on to point out that, in one form or degree, all nations on the planet accept this ugly premise—except the United States. Rooted instead in the moral premises of individualism and individual rights, America is truly "exceptional," because it ties the rewards of life to one's individual efforts. This is the antithesis of the "entitlement" mentality, by which one is "entitled" to goods and services by "right," simply as the result of having been born.

The claim that "health care is a right" is a moral inversion, and in practice, it can lead only to economic disaster.

First of all, let's define our terms. "Health care" means: goods and services produced by doctors, nurses, hospitals, medical equipment manufacturers, medicine R&D companies, pharmacies, nursing homes, etc. To declare that one has "a right to health care" means: One has a moral-political entitlement to all these goods and services regardless of whether one pays for them. Translated, this can only mean: One has a "right" to enslave the producers of such goods and services. The latter, you see, have a boundless duty to provide all these things to the "rightful" claimants, regardless of compensation—or at compensation terms set unilaterally by the claimants (or by the government, acting in their name), without any corresponding right of the providers to say "No!" The "right to health care," in other words, denies the rights of all those who are supposed to fulfill it.

Moreover, why can't the same argument be made about all other necessities? Humans all need food, clothing, housing, transportation, exercise, education, artistic stimulation, loving relationships, a social life, jobs, etc., etc. Do we therefore have a "right" to be provided all of these things, regardless of our "ability (or willingness) to pay"? Does this mean that we also have a moral claim on the energy, talents, time, and productivity of, respectively: farmers, grocers, construction firms (and their workers), home-finance offices and banks, auto manufacturers and dealers, teachers, owners of gyms and sports facilities, musicians, painters, sculptors, dancers, museums, concert halls, dating services, private clubs, and employers?

Where does the "right to necessities" end? And, as modern life becomes more complicated, what is not a "necessity"?

This brings us to the other term in the claim: "a right." In the American Enlightenment tradition, a "right" is a moral entitlement to freedom of action—not to goods and services. A right is a moral entitlement to act on one's own behalf, without interference, to obtain life's necessities—a freedom limited only by the similar freedom of every other person. It is a moral entitlement to pursue happiness, and to gain, keep, and enjoy the fruits of one's labors; it is not a moral entitlement to happiness itself, or to the fruits of the labors of anyone else.

But the latter is what the advocates of the "right to health care" really mean. They aim to sever any relationship between work and reward. Ultimately, they are claiming an entitlement to a guaranteed existence—to a life without want, privation, or injury of any kind, regardless of one's own actions or inactions. In their socialist system, no matter how productive or lazy, how rich or poor, one is "entitled" by "right" to "equal" benefits—or privations. As an individual, you are no longer allowed to independently earn your way to buying, say, prompt or exceptional medical treatment; instead, you must endure your injury or ailment indefinitely, "so long as the rich Canadian and the poor Canadian have to wait about the same amount of time." And you'll get no better treatment than anyone else.

Of course, this moral inversion can't work in practice, and it never has. Once you destroy any link between effort and reward, fewer and fewer are willing to exert exceptional productive efforts. Why should they bother, if they gain no special benefits and rewards? Indeed, why should they bother if they are even taxed more heavily for their extraordinary abilities and output? Why not simply do what everyone else does: cut back on one's efforts and line up for unearned benefits produced by others?

But before you can "equalize distribution," you first must produce something to distribute. When discouraged producers stop producing as much, what happens to the general availability of goods and services in society? That's the practical fallacy in socialism: It encourages unlimited demand, while discouraging supply.

The reason there are long waits for medical care in Canada and other socialized states is that there are shortages of medical-care providers. Sick and tired of endless, unrewarded claims upon their productive energies and incomes, they have decided to stop being so shamefully exploited and financially cannibalized.

"The right to health care" is morality stood on its head. It proclaims a moral entitlement to live as a parasite and to make unending claims upon the medical system's productive hosts. But there is nothing in such a system for the hosts. Ultimately—and ironically—there is nothing in it for the parasites, either. As fewer and fewer medical-care providers are willing to produce and offers goods and services that patients require, the only equality will be equality in misery.

The alleged virtue of equality is cold comfort when nobody can find a doctor when he needs one—or when there is no longer a single non-socialistic medical system anywhere on earth, where desperate socialists in foreign nations can go for the treatments that their egalitarian systems no longer provide them.

That is the grim, immoral future that ObamaCare will bring us in America, too—if we allow it. ESR

Robert Bidinotto is former editor of The New Individualist and an award winning journalist who can also be found blogging here.

 

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