Tim McMullen's Missives and Tomes

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Healthcare and the "It's My Money" Argument

A friend on Facebook posted an article about a chain store, Hobby Lobby, suing the government over the Affordable Care Act because of their religious opposition to contraception. Though the thread got a little off topic, the following reasonable question was raised about another commentator’s suggestion that we should have universal healthcare like 90% of the developed nations.

“Why should I be forced to pay for the irresponsibility of another person? Rights are restrictions on what other people can force upon you. You have the right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. You have the right to believe what you want, the right to go about doing whatever you want without being forced into doing anything with anybody else that you do not wish to participate in so long as you are not effecting there rights. How is it your birthright to take my money and pay for your healthcare if you choose to live a lifestyle that will cause medical problems?"

Granted, it missed the whole religious aspect of the contraception issue, but it asks a question many ask about taxes. What follows is my answer:

Fred, I was going to let this thread about a petty and spurious legal squabble slide since your response to my answer about the religious nature of the lawsuit was not a rebuttal but a complete reframing of the issue that was, again, completely irrelevant to the article. But after your answer to Amy’s question about universal healthcare, I feel compelled to weigh in.

I do not wish to attribute to you any assumptions or views that you do not hold, yet in order to respond to the underlying premises, I find it necessary to make some generalizations. I am not accusing you of or praising you for being a libertarian; however, your line of reasoning is along “libertarian” lines.

People like Ron Paul and Penn Gillette make compelling arguments about the intrusive and/or oppressive nature of government while elevating the rights of the individual over the demands of society. I am guessing that these arguments, if unexamined, have resonance with a majority Americans.

Ayn Rand’s vision of the exceptional, self-made man, the individualistic hero—Emerson and Thoreau’s “self-reliant” individual turned into a morally superior and anti-social megalomaniac—as well as Nietzsche’s “√úbermensch” or “Superman,” has also found increasing popularity in an ethical, social, political, and economic milieu where the wages and rights of the worker have been significantly eroded while a new class of corporate mega-millionaires has been created.

Anyone born during or since Reagan’s reign has lived in a society in which “government IS the PROBLEM” has been the “common wisdom”; this is a “consensus” that was carefully designed and executed long before Reagan’s ascendancy, and one that continues to be bought and paid for by billions of corporate dollars spent to perpetuate that destructive falsehood. Government is NOT the problem. However, BAD government is ONE of the problems. Mythical distortions of history and anti-intellectualism are also problematic for a society as is an unsustainable economy predicated on personal greed and perpetual growth.

E.E. Cummings coined the phrase “shrill, collective myth” to describe a “popular” view of history. Our collective myth perpetuates some very powerful and laudable assumptions. You said, for example, “Rights are restrictions on what other people can force upon you.” This point, of course, stems from an assumption of “Natural Rights,” i.e., those rights that are “inalienable” and which apply equally to all humans, as opposed to “Legal Rights,” which are those rights conferred by the laws of a society. Jefferson included the phrase, “they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” If, by Creator (with a capital “C”) he meant God, then this very line of reasoning is not self-evident, but pure conjecture. The existence of God (as anthropomorphic being rather than as Tillich’s “Ultimate Concern”) is certainly not self-evident any more than basic rights are self-evident. This, on the other hand, does not mean that these enumerated rights are not good goals.

You also quote the brilliant “Declaration of Independence” directly: “You have the right to ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’” Of course, it is important to remember that the men who penned these phrases held and justified the holding of slaves, in essence, instantly contradicting all three provisions as far as slaves were concerned.
John Locke, the philosopher from whom much of the rationale for the “Declaration” was acquired, suggested in “A Letter Concerning Toleration”: “The commonwealth seems to me to be a society of men constituted only for the procuring, preserving, and advancing their own civil interests.  ¶Civil interests I call life, liberty, health, and indolency of body; and the possession of outward things, such as money, lands, houses, furniture, and the like.” Notice that he actually included health as one of these “civil interests.” These sentences were preceded by his analysis and dismissal of the “pretense” of claims by both church and magistrate as an excuse to dominate others. His rational analysis of and call for religious tolerance (which echoes Roger William’s essay “On the Bloudy Tenent of Persecution, 1644) is extremely pertinent and, I think you would agree, comes down solidly on the side of the Affordable Care Act and against Hobby Lobby.
Finally, you suggest the following: “You have the right to believe what you want, the right to go about doing whatever you want without being forced into doing anything with anybody else that you do not wish to participate in so long as you are not effecting there (sic) rights.” This is certainly true in a social vacuum, and as long as one lives completely outside of any human contact (and some would extend this to inter-species contact), such rights can remain sacrosanct. However, as soon as another individual enters the picture, such rights are either lost entirely, in the case of subjugation or domination, or compromised in ways that accommodate both individuals. This is the nature of society. I completely agree with your characterization of lofty goals, and I would tend to agree with Locke and Jefferson (and with you, perhaps?) that governments came into existence to “secure these rights.”

Unfortunately, lofty goals aside, the argument nearly always degenerates into an argument about “MY MONEY!” and returns us to the fiction of the “self-made man” and the “self-made money.” I would be happy to address this “we made this” fallacy elsewhere, but here it simply comes down to the simple fact that taxes are not the government stealing from the individual, it is the individual consenting to be taxed as a part of being the governed.

As Locke said in “Sec. 140.” Of the Second Treatise of Civil Government, after spending paragraphs explaining why no person can be legally deprived of property, he avers: “It is true, governments cannot be supported without great charge, and it is fit every one who enjoys his share of the protection, should pay out of his estate his proportion for the maintenance of it. But still it must be with his own consent, i.e. the consent of the majority, giving it either by themselves, or their representatives chosen by them: for if any one shall claim a power to lay and levy taxes on the people, by his own authority, and without such consent of the people, he thereby invades the fundamental law of property, and subverts the end of government: for what property have I in that, which another may by right take, when he pleases, to himself?”

Therefore, roads and schools and military and police and business regulations and health care that the society, through their representative government, deem worthy of securing, is a fundamental part of a societal construct. That our own society has abdicated Locke’s “civil interest” in health is a moral disgrace, and the fact that we have relegated basic health protections to the private profiteers is something that we actually should be up in arms about.

This brings us to your view of “health” and “health care.” You argue, “How is it your birthright to take my money and pay for your healthcare if you choose to live a lifestyle that will cause medical problems?" Are you arguing that all health issues can be avoided through lifestyle choices? Mitigated, certainly, but avoided? Of course not. What of the child born with a disease or who contracts one early in life? Was that a result of the child’s lifestyle? If not, would you admit that this child has a birthright to health care? Or is this individual’s life merely determined by the vagaries of wealth and whether or not the family can afford it? We have a right, as a society, to agree otherwise.

If I knowingly eat spoiled food, I am an idiot. But do we, as a part of our consent to be governed have a right to demand that the government regulate those who make and provide food so that it is not spoiled when we eat it? Do we have a right to demand that corporations not pollute our environment or that when they do, we, as a society, have a right to extract both compensation and punishment for that harm (a basic Lockean premise from the same paragraph of his letter quoted above).

I have no children. You appear to argue that the government taking my money and paying for the education of someone else’s children is inherently wrong. Howard Jarvis, the demagogue who led the “taxpayers’ revolt” with Prop 13 in California is still hailed as a guiding light by many. He stated unequivocally that he did not believe in public education. I believe that Howard Jarvis and Paul Gann were idiots about tax policy (or more likely, knowing con men), sycophants for the corporatocracy parading as “grass roots” organizers, an early example of “astro-turfing,” and direct contributors to our current economic woes.

I, however, would not begrudge their children a public education nor would I deny their fundamental social right to health care. Ironically, Paul Gann contracted AIDS, apparently from a transfusion, and at the end of his life, he was an advocate for AIDS treatment and patient’s rights. The "Paul Gann Blood Safety Act" (California Health and Safety Code Section 1645(b)) mandates that physicians discuss the risks of blood transfusions. Public money well spent on government intervention to protect the health of individuals. Just like public money well spent on public education, fire and safety enforcement, infrastructure, business regulations, and health care—including contraception.

We, as citizens, have every right to demand that our tax dollars are “well spent,” and we have a right to argue about how to spend them, but we don’t have a right to individually withhold it on religious or personal grounds. I, of course, also think that Churches who participate in political activity either in the pulpit or through campaign contributions as well as any “non-profit” (501(c)(3)’s, like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, that engage in political activity should also be taxed, but that, again, is a different argument for a different time.

Personally, I sort of like the idea of voters getting to “check off” where their tax dollars will go. I am enraged and outraged that my taxes support the murdering of innocent civilians by “video game” (drone); the protection and subsidizing of irresponsible, criminal, and in some cases, murderous corporations and their management; and myriad other examples of what I see as misuses of government, i.e., tax-payer, funds. But until we, the governed, create such a system, then it is unfair and unreasonable to argue that the government is usurping or commandeering or “stealing” your money simply because you object to how it is used. Lobby to change it, or revolt to change it, but to argue coercion on a particular specific is, at the very least, disingenuous.

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