The individual versus the system

Mark Steyn talks about the loss of liberty (so apparent to those of us of a certain age) and healthcare, and wonders why on earth people apparently keep ceding their freedoms to a leviathan:

as a proportion of GDP, America spends more on health care than countries with government medical systems. But, as a point of fact, “America” doesn’t spend anything on health care: Hundreds of millions of people make hundreds of millions of individual decisions about what they’re going to spend on health care.

Whereas up north a handful of bureaucrats determine what Canada will spend on health care — and that’s that: Health care is a government budget item. If Joe Hoser in Moose Jaw wants to increase Canada’s health-care spending by $500 drawn from his savings account, he can’t: The law prevents it. Unless, as many Canadians do, he drives south and spends it in a U.S. hospital for treatment he can’t get in a timely manner in his own country.

You can make the “controlling costs” argument about anything: After all, it’s no surprise that millions of free people freely choosing how they spend their own money will spend it in different ways than government bureaucrats would be willing to license on their behalf. America spends more per capita on food than Zimbabwe. America spends more on vacations than North Korea. America spends more on lap-dancing than Saudi Arabia (well, officially).

Canada spends more per capita on doughnuts than America…Why doesn’t Ottawa introduce a National Doughnut Licensing Agency? You’d still see your general dispenser for simple procedures like a lightly sugared cruller, but he’d refer you to a specialist if you needed, say, a maple-frosted custard — and it would only be a six-month wait, at the end of which you’d receive a stale cinnamon roll. Under government regulation, eventually every doughnut would be all hole and no doughnut, and the problem would be solved. Even if the hole costs $1.6 trillion.

How did the health-care debate decay to the point where we think it entirely natural for the central government to fix a collective figure for what 300 million freeborn citizens ought to be spending on something as basic to individual liberty as their own bodies?

That’s the argument that needs to be won. And, if you think I’m being frivolous in positing bureaucratic regulation of doughnuts and vacations, consider that under the all-purpose umbrellas of “health” and “the environment,” governments of supposedly free nations are increasingly comfortable straying into areas of diet and leisure. Last year, a British bill attempted to ban Tony the Tiger, longtime pitchman for Frosties, from children’s TV because of his malign influence on young persons. Why not just ban Frosties? Or permit it by prescription only? Or make kids stand outside on the sidewalk to eat it?

It was also proposed — by the Conservative party, alas — that, in the interests of saving the planet, each citizen should be permitted to fly a certain number of miles a year, after which he would be subject to punitive eco-surtaxes.

If heathcare is passed, it will likely be because Republicans sign on to 1000 pages of intended and unintended consequences with their friends across the aisle. Aggregating power into Washington is not a monopoly of the Democrats. Someone ought to write a book about the lives of ex-senators and congressmen. No doubt they and their families are well provided for by those they favored in the Capitol.

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