April 9, 2012 -- Obamacare mandates that all citizens purchase health insurance. But Supreme Court justices ripped into the administration’s “purchase or be punished” law during oral arguments over Obamacare's constitutionality. So the administration is distancing itself from the now-disreputable term “personal mandate” by calling it a “personal responsibility clause.”
On a recent McLaughlin Group discussion show, liberal commentator Eleanor Clift echoed the White House line. She argued that it is personally irresponsible for someone to show up at an emergency room, get treatment, not pay for it, and stick someone else with the bill.
Okay, if leftists want to talk personal responsibility, let’s use this as a “teaching moment” to make clear that their welfare state, of which Obamacare is the latest addition, is a full-scale war on personal responsibility.
The welfare state is founded on the principle of collective rather than personal—read individual—responsibility. Everyone is responsible for everyone else. Politicians argue that “we” or “society” must make sure that no one goes without health care, education, housing, retirement pensions, lunch, and an ever-growing list of entitlements. But how does collective responsibility actually work?
Welfare state advocates act on the premise that most individuals (a) should not be expected to take responsibility for their own lives because (b) they simply cannot get along on their own without the assistance of others. This is what President Obama means when he criticizes Republicans for allegedly telling citizens facing economic troubles, in effect, “You’re on your own.”
Many decades ago, welfare state advocates gave lip service to the belief that most individuals could take care of themselves most of the time. But, they argued, on occasion, through unpredictable circumstances beyond individual control or through “market failures,” some folks might need temporary government help. (But if so, why not look to private charity?)
Those excuses for the welfare state atrophied as entitlements metastasized. Temporary assistance for the few grew to cradle-to-grave guarantees for the many. The assumption of welfare state advocates is that most individuals cannot tie their own shoes or wipe their own noses without government. Those advocates act on the assumption—though they don’t say so very loudly—that most individuals are just too damned stupid or undisciplined, and thus can’t take care of themselves.
Who pays, who rules?
Welfare state advocates also assume that there are a handful of individuals—the most productive and thus the most prosperous—who produce the “excess” wealth necessary to pay for all those entitlements. And it is the personal responsibility and moral duty of those individuals who can run their own lives to serve those who can’t. If they object to being sacrificial animals, they’re labeled “selfish.”
Listen to the rhetoric of welfare-statists. They actually refer to not taxing “the rich” at confiscatory rates as a “social giveaway,” on the assumption that individuals keep the wealth they earn only by the grace of society.
Welfare state advocates want others to see them as the benevolent philosopher-kings who should have the responsibly and—this is key—the power to force producers pay their “fair share” to support those who presumably can’t care for themselves. But the truth is far uglier than even their pretense of running the lives of others.
Welfare state principles and practices over decades have produced a population of infantilized adults. The welfare state treats individuals like children. Actually, worse than children since the goal of good parents is to raise kids to be responsible adults, not to perpetuate their juvenile ways.
The welfare state rewards irresponsible behavior. It encourages individuals to envy their productive neighbors and to seek from others the unearned. Indeed, it tells them that it’s their right to do so. The result: a nation of spoiled brats.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie got it right when he recently said the country is becoming a "paternalistic entitlement society" and that “Government's telling [individuals to] … stop dreaming, stop striving, we'll take care of you." If this trend continues, “We'll have a bunch of people sitting on a couch waiting for their next government check.”
Indeed, as the logic of the welfare state works its way out, there will be fewer responsible and productive individuals. Then we see the screaming from the spoiled. Just recently at Santa Monica College students stormed a trustee meeting—one called to deal the school’s fiscal difficulties—shouting “No cuts, no fees, education should be free.” They demand the “right” to show up at college, get an education, not pay for it, and stick someone else with the bill. And Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke became the center of controversy as she unashamedly asserted to members of Congress her “right” to have her birth control pills paid for by her neighbors.
In a welfare state, government wealth redistribution punishes productivity and extensive regulation of the economy in the name of “fairness” destroys productivity. In the end, when the victims run out, when there is no one else to steal from to provide “free” goods and services, we see the sickening sight of adults incapable of imagining how to act like productive adults. Look at Greece and other EU states.
And here’s what’s even sicker. Welfare state politicians require adults to be in such a servile state. A population of self-reliant and productive individuals would have no need and nothing but contempt for such pandering paternalists.
Now we can see what is wrong with Eleanor Clift’s contention that a personal health care insurance mandate is necessary to deal with the problem of individuals getting treatment at hospitals and not paying their bills. First, welfare-state philosophy tells individuals it’s ultimately not their responsibility to pay, it’s society’s.
Second, government regulations have driven up the costs of health care for hospitals, making it more difficult for responsible people to pay their bills.
And finally, it is the government that mandates that hospitals treat all comers regardless of whether they intend to pay or not. Of course, no hospital wants to turn away patients. They’d prefer to work with patients to make sure bills are paid. In a free market for health care they’d be better able to offer discounted rates for poorer patients or for patients who pay cash rather than cover bills through insurance companies.
Responsibility actually implies that hospitals should be free to turn away those who won’t pay, the same as a dentist can. It implies that individuals must take responsibility for paying for their own health care, whether through insurance, savings or whatever means, and every other expense in life.
If Obama and his welfare state cronies want to play the “personal responsibility” card, they should take responsibility for creating a culture that promotes dependence and destroys the opportunities for individuals to take responsibility for their own lives.
And it’s time for all adults who are fighting to retain responsibility for their own lives to make a moral revolution for the right to individual autonomy and thus true personal responsibility!
Edward Hudgins writes on political and social issues. He is the editor of Freedom to Trade: Refuting the New Protectionism, Space: The Free Market Frontier, and two books on postal service privatization. His latest collection is entitled An Objectivist Secular Reader. He is director of advocacy for The Atlas Society.