Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Should the Federal Government be in the Business of Should?

This country began as a democracy with significant limits and has evolved into a democracy with virtually none.  How did this happen?  If healthcare, education and housing are all rights, how could the Founders have overlooked them?  Didn't Thomas Jefferson and James Madison have these rights?  Maybe they weren't rights when the Constitution was written but became rights later on?  When exactly was that and what makes them different from cell-phones or cable television?  Or are having cell-phones and cable television now rights too?  

If healthcare is a right, why does anyone have to pay for it?  Why isn't it free?  Freedom of speech and freedom of association are rights under the Constitution.  They are free.  No one has to pay to speak or to hang out.  So what makes healthcare different?  Oh yeah, healthcare doesn't just exist, you need someone else, a doctor or nurse who has spent years of his or her life training and studying, to provide it.  Likewise with education and housing.  How can anything that requires someone else to act be considered a right?  Do doctors and nurses have rights?  What if they decide not to act?  Where do you get your healthcare from then?

Which leads to the point of this post:  the United States and other "enlightened" countries around the world have confused rights with shoulds--everyone should have healthcare insurance, everyone should have a home, everyone should be educated, everyone should have cable television, everyone should have a cell-phone (and, believe it or not, the government does provide cable television and cell-phones for those in "need").

Now, if a large group of society gets healthcare, housing, education, cable television and cell-phones for free what do you think that does to the prices of those items for everyone else?  Or to overall employment?  Here's a hint--prices for all of these items are distorted higher than they should be causing other people to spend more on them than they would have otherwise leaving them with less money to spend on other things, which reduces employment outside of the chosen shoulds.  Of course spending on the shoulds has resulted in many more people being employed in those areas than there should be leading to big problems (witness Fannie Mae which, at the behest of Barney Frank et al, created a massive housing bubble by financing millions of unfit borrowers because everyone should own a home).  

While I most certainly agree that everyone should have housing, education and healthcare, the problem is that relying on the federal government to provide these things has invariably resulted in dislocations that are worse than the initial problem.  Medical care was expensive before Obamacare.  Does anyone really believe that creating an additional bureaucracy and mandating that small businesses, many of which already barely make enough to justify their own existence, pay an additional healthcare tariff will reduce the overall cost?  Won't businesses at the margin just close, leaving their employees without jobs?  Isn't employment more important to a family than lack of health insurance?  In the first instance, at least you can eat and pay your rent.  Likewise, why is owning a home, which we all now understand is not the investment we were led to believe, so important?  Isn't the issue housing, not home ownership? [If Congress had understood this distinction we might not be in our current economic situation.]  

Before the federal government was involved in housing, did the poor all live on the street?  Before it was involved in healthcare, did they get no care?  Were they ignorant before it became involved in education?  The answer is no to all of these questions.  Communities, local and state governments handled each situation.  What has the federal government added besides bureaucracy and inefficiency?  New Orleans was devastated by Hurricane Katrina as it waited for federal action.  Where was Louisiana's emergency response? Atlanta schools have cooked their books in order to qualify for federal education aid.  Medicare fraud has driven the cost of healthcare skyward.  How have these helped the poor?  Whatever happened to local accountability?  

Churches have long been known to provide healthcare, education and housing for a fraction of the cost of their government provided alternatives. How can that be?  The simple answer is that they don't have thirty layers of bureaucracy sucking up most of the money before spending what's left on the actual service.  The more subtle answer is that churches actually care, care about the actual people receiving their aid, as opposed to the faceless bureaucrat in Washington who knows them as little more than numbers.

So while I firmly believe that all of the shoulds really are shoulds, I also believe, for one simple reason, that the federal government should not be the one to address them--and that reason is that the federal government is just no good at it.  Finally, as I've written previously, when you venture into the land of should--a word that flashes BELIEF in my head--it's my opinion that you've crossed into the realm of religion, the one place where the federal government is specifically prohibited from entering.  (See previous post, Church of the United States.)

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