Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Demagoguing at its finest: health care legislation

Yesterday morning, Ed Rendell, the Governor of Pennsylvania, was being interviewed by a host on one of the morning cable news shows; that host is also an attorney, and has been reading and analyzing the “health care reform” legislation that is now the law of the land.

The host/attorney asked the Governor to comment on the legal challenges being raised around the country by several state attorneys general, including Pennsylvania’s.  Rendell gave the perfunctory “I like him” response, and then immediately played the emotion card, rather than respond on the legal substance: “why on earth would these officials want to deprive innocent children of the health care this bill would give them?” (or words to that effect – that’s the best I can remember it.)

In other words, only days after the signing, you simply demonize those who oppose the legislation and wish to challenge, repeal, or replace it.  You can always use the race card, of course, as we’ve frequently seen, but if that’s not appropriate for the moment, why not go with the “for the children” card that is a proven winner at all levels of government?

Forget the fact that the legislation will do irreversible harm to the future those children will face; forget the principles that our government is based on and our officials have sworn to uphold; forget the drastic and surely irreversible economic effects the legislation will have on the future of all Americans.

Forget those nits; how dare someone challenge a new government entitlement?

As I thought about this exchange, I remembered the Mackinac Center publication I’ve referred to before: Seven Principles of Sound Public Policy.  The first principle is “Free people are not equal, and equal people are not free.”  This is a profound insight.

It’s the third principle I wish to cite here, though:

Sound policy requires that we consider long-run effects and all people, not simply short-run effects and a few people.

It may be true, as British economist John Maynard Keynes once declared, that "in the long run, we’re all dead." But that shouldn’t be a license to enact policies that make a few people feel good now at the cost of hurting many people tomorrow.

I can think of many such policies. When Lyndon Johnson cranked up the Great Society in the 1960s, the thought was that some people would benefit from a welfare check. We now know that over the long haul, the federal entitlement to welfare encouraged idleness, broke up families, produced intergenerational dependency and hopelessness, cost taxpayers a fortune and yielded harmful cultural pathologies that may take generations to undo. Likewise, policies of deficit spending and government growth — while enriching a few at the start — have eaten at the vitals of the nation’s economy and moral fiber for decades.

This principle is actually a call to be thorough in our thinking. It says that we shouldn’t be superficial in our judgments. If a thief goes from bank to bank, stealing all the cash he can get his hands on, and then spends it all at the local shopping mall, you wouldn’t be thorough in your thinking if all you did was survey the store owners to conclude that this guy stimulated the economy.

We should remember that today is the tomorrow that yesterday’s poor policymakers told us we could ignore. If we want to be responsible adults, we can’t behave like infants whose concern is overwhelmingly focused on self and on the here-and-now.

It should be abundantly clear to the interested student that the only long term thinking in effect here is political in nature – how to remain in power.  When the majority of those who voted for the bill never read it, and couldn’t understand it if they did, to think otherwise is folly of the highest order.

The determination to “do good,” of course, is the universal rationale for ignoring reality and long term consequences of one’s acts.  Better to give a child the candy or whatever else it wants at the moment, rather than ponder the long term consequences for its health and character development.  (How’s that working out, America?)

I was also reminded of a great insight spoken by a candidate for congress in the last election, one Professor John Frary.  I present it here, slightly edited for readability:

All legislation produces unintended consequences, some of which might be beneficial. The problem with most legislation is that there is no way to measure the intended consequences.

Insistence that legislation will do some good to some people is almost certainly true, but there is no way to weigh the good against the the harm from diverting the funds from more useful activities.

Drop ten millions dollars over Bangor and some of the money is sure to fall into the hands of needy and meritorious citizens. Presumably, many would consider this sufficient justification for such a program.

So there you have it.  For those of you wildly supportive of the recently supported legislation, I suggest you gather up 30% or so of your assets and liquidate them into cash money.  When you have the cash in hand, charter a plane to fly you over whatever landscape you wish…presumably in a populated area….and throw the cash out the window.

While much may be lost to the wind and find no good purpose, you can have faith that some portion of your wealth will have found its way into the hands of someone who needed it more than you.  And this alone should be reward enough for the sacrifice you’ve made.

If you really get lucky, some of it may end up in those school department change jars we can expect to see around town!

As a matter of fact, if that’s what you’d like to happen, give me a call and I’ll pick up some of the cash from you and deposit it in the jars on your behalf to minimize the loss. 

And you know you can trust me; I’m not like all the others.

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