Wednesday, March 31, 2010


As most of you know, I regularly get notes and e-mails from people who don't agree with me on certain issues. I also respond to posts on the site's of friends, most often when I'm asked to. From time to time I share these exchanges here on my blog. With health care reform now law it seems the questions, arguments, and commentary are growing. 

Below I am responding to an individual who (1) doesn't believe people (especially young people) should be "forced" into purchasing things they don't want (i.e. health care insurance), (2) doesn't see social security as a good thing, and (3) believes it's good that a handful of Republican Attorney Generals at the state level are challenging the legality of the health care legislation. Here's my response (corrected for typos) ...

John Q:

I appreciate your arguments. They're thoughtful and well crafted ...

Let me start with this. Our government tells us what to do with private property and purchases all the time, and for good reason ... Suppose you own a home (I don't know if you do). You have a nice neighbor who suddenly tells you he's going to open up a brothel. Can he? No. City and county laws - which were crafted by democratically elected citizens - say there are codes that must be adhered to. If you own a car - a private choice - the government has determined they can stop you in your car with reason (speeding) and without reason (DUI check points) because it's better for society. We purchase our services from government mandated/approved entities all the time as well. If you get your garbage picked up in the city you know this. Relatedly, you can't hire some fly-by-night to come and take your garbage away and not pay the city/county fee for pick-up that week (or later). Most people have to pay fees/taxes for local schools and parks. These are mandated (municipal bonds are the model). You purchase your electricity and water from a single government-sponsored source. It's the concept that surrounds public utilities. Everyone in California must have insurance to drive. This costs money. We have vaccination programs that are mandated, which makes everyone better off. etc.

The point is, we've determined as a society that certain services and functions are necessary so that things work better over all. And, yes, social security is an excellent example of this. Consider the following. Before social security over half of all the elderly in America lived in poverty (many through no fault of their own; think The Great Crash). Social security helped to fix this. In fact, SS has turned out to be a giant subsidy for the middle-class, which has made everyone in America better off. Why is that? I don't have the time to go into detail explaining how and why social security isn't in the trouble you think it is, but you can take a look at some of the things I've written on the topic here. To close on SS, it is one of the best, and most efficiently, run programs in the country. But many don't know about this because there’s a good deal of political capital to be gained by bashing everything the government does as evil. It's irresponsible, but politically effective.

As to your point about someone being young and making the choice to purchase another insurance product (or none at all). One of the reasons this choice is even available is because we haven't had mass outbreaks of things like cholera or polio, we have a relatively healthy and clean public environment which prevent the spread of infectious diseases, government regulations protect you from faulty products that might have claimed your life, you don't have to worry (too much) about being assaulted and maimed on the street, buildings won't collapse on you during moderate earthquakes because of government enforced building codes, etc. Your "choices" as a young healthy individual are shaped and made available by things young people haven't contributed to, nor helped craft. Contrary to bumper sticker talking points, your right to make the choices you claim are yours alone, in many ways, are made possible by government policies and decisions.

Finally, the 15 (or so) Attorney Generals are grandstanding. They know what we do at the federal level is the "supreme law of the land" until the Supreme Court says otherwise. Marbury v. Madison (and subsequent cases) made this clear over 200 years ago. The challenges you see are based on political calculations, and not legal standing. As lawyers these AGs know this, but they have political futures to think about, so filing challenges works (for them). It gets their base riled up. To be sure, it's a waste of taxpayer money, but it gets the political base behind them. This helps out in their next political cycle.

- Mark
There's more where this came from. I'll share the good stuff as it comes in.
- Mark

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