October 28, 2009 -- The morally ugly nature of actual altruism was on display when Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius recently declared that one in ten doses of the Swine Flu vaccine that were purchased with American taxpayer dollars will be given to other countries before there is enough vaccine to cover the health needs of Americans.
She explained that “There’s an agreement (on a) ten percent donation that eleven nations have made.” Once 40 million doses have been produced and distributed in the United States, then ten percent of what’s produced will be donated even as the U.S. government waits for the rest of the 250 million doses it ordered to treat 307 million Americans.
Thus there might well be Americans who, thanks to the U.S. government, will not have access to the vaccine when they need it and could get sick or die.
The U.S. government will donate ten percent of the 250 million doses it ordered to treat 307 million Americans.
I have a modest proposal: no Obama administration appointee, administration supporter in Congress, their media flacks, nor any of their wives, husbands, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, brothers, or sisters should be allowed to have a vaccination. How does self-sacrifice feel now?
Let’s dissect the carcass of a philosophy that keeps arising, zombie-like, in monstrous decisions such as this one from the Obama administration.
Shot in the Arm for Government
The first problem is that the U.S. government shouldn’t be providing such vaccines to begin with. Already the government is behind schedule in getting out enough doses to meet the demand for the vaccine. Long lines for flu shots are a preview of what we can expect from Obama-care. Of course, if the government were not controlling distribution, we wouldn’t have the problem of an Obama apparatchik giving away some of the medicine that we paid for to non-Americans first.
But given the fact that the federal government has decided to take the lead in immunizing the nation using taxpayer dollars, you’d think it would give priority to preventing just those taxpayers--and, more widely, every American--from succumbing to the flu. After all, the modus operandi of paternalist politicians is pandering, so you’d think they’d concentrate on purchasing, with flu vaccines among other things, the goodwill of the Americans who can vote them in or out of office. So why would these politicians give foreigners priority over Americans for this possibly life-saving vaccine?
Virtue or Virus?
By the very morality on which the paternalist state is based, giving away to foreigners vaccines paid for by Americans, even if doing so puts Americans at risk of sickness or death, is not only acceptable but the height of virtue. After all, the paternalist state is based on the notion that we are each our brother’s keeper. It’s based on the notion that one’s virtue is measured by the degree to which one puts others first, even at the expense of one’s own self-interest. Sebelius is simply using government to force us to be virtuous. The government already redistributes our wealth to other Americans. Why not redistribute our health to our brothers and sisters overseas?
You say you don’t want to give the vaccine to poor little children in Africa and Asia, keeping all for yourself and your family? What kind of a selfish, greedy, hate-filled bastard are you?
The government is behind schedule in getting out enough doses to meet the demand for the vaccine.
Some might argue that this is an extreme position. Of course, they’d say, we have a duty to help others, but we are entitled to help ourselves a little as well. It’s a balance. But by what standard do we judge how to make that balance?
In practice, if one accepts a social standard of morality, such decisions ultimately are based on raw political power, on who holds the gun. And that certainly is the nature of the increasingly politicized American regime today.
The Healthy Self
Of course, the problem with the morality on which Obama, Sebelius, and most politicians base their policies is that it’s simply wrong. The moral purpose of one’s life should be to live and flourish. This will first entail cultivating in one’s soul the moral virtue of rationality; one must use one’s mind to understand the world. It entails applying that knowledge in order to produce the means of one’s physical survival and spiritual well-being. It entails taking pride in one’s achievements and joy in one’s career, family, and friends. And, in society with others, it would entail respecting the rights of others and dealing with them based on mutual consent rather than the initiation of force.
Naturally, a benevolent individual will have goodwill towards others. One might even be moved to help strangers who have fallen on hard times, especially through no fault of their own. And who wouldn’t view poor children overseas, ravaged by hunger and disease, with sympathy? Private charity rightly aims at helping such individuals.
But the best way to help such individuals is to promote capitalism--which will allow them to help themselves, to escape from poverty and repression, and to be able to afford medicines--to get the most for themselves out of their own lives.
Of course, to promote capitalism assumes that such individuals should pursue their own rational self-interest. Yes, they should, and so should each of us! And that’s why the government should stay out of our way and let us take care of our lives, including our own health care, ourselves.
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.