Culturalism · Federal Government

What Happened To Liberal Values?

Since January 2017, we have been subjected to a deluge of hand-wringing over liberal ideas and constitutional freedoms. Such lamentations have certainly existed before, but never with the same obsessive dedication as in the age of Trump. It is almost as if people believe these principles are suddenly at stake, while under prior regimes they remained safe.

But there is one problem: they have never meant anything, or least not in the way most people think. Sure, one can cry about the Constitution and the Rule of Law, yet neither amount to much unless they are defended, unreservedly. Spectators seem to think we can somehow maintain the general concepts absent any substantial sacrifice, and in the process invalidate all which is at stake. The battle is lost in their thoughts, and thus nobody lifts a finger.

The most evident indictment on this question is that of private property. While liberalism can lay claim to allowing a certain degree of social barbarism in the name of free expression, its adherents have no place to flee on the matter of individual sovereignty over possessions. America was founded largely on this basis, with our Constitution borrowing heavily from the writings of John Locke, perhaps the greatest advocate of property rights known in the Western world. In his own words:

“Every man has a property in his own person.  This nobody has any right to but himself.  The labor of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his.”

The very notion of being able to own something without threat of feudalistic seizure by some petty monarch has become sacrosanct in the broader liberal world, despite attempts to erode through acts such as eminent domain. Crimes of trespassing are still regularly enforced, and theft is considered a serious crime in most jurisdictions.

Until now. For all that the liberal republican system has promised to safeguard rights, the riots and looting of the last several weeks shows its agnostic opinion of self. Businesses or cars immolate and merchandise streams from the shelves unpaid, as scarcely soft murmurs escape the lips of the liberty-promoters. Police cannot respond, soldiers are warned against reacting, and politicians condemned for trying to bring order. Yet somehow, we are still implored to believe in the existence of these principles.

Even anti-skeptics must admit it is nearly impossible. The very essence of liberal religiosity requires that people can live without fear of losing their “pursuit of happiness” to the enraged mob of our current year, and edgy suspicion grows every day, with atheistic reactions not far behind. A spiritual awakening seems necessary to stem the tide, if only it can come. Of course such a development requires the will to act, and the liberal order has not anything close.

So softly the Republic burns.

Federal Government · investing · Personal Finance

Can Free Market Healthcare Work?

One of the silliest debates in the last ten years has been that surrounding healthcare. Progressives screech about the need for broader Medicare coverage, and conservatives extol the virtues of “free market reforms” to bring down medical costs. In both cases, they miss the mark by fixating on the delivery of insurance rather than an elimination of health issues in the first place.

For the purposes of this post, let us consider conservative arguments. They will typically join libertarians in advocating a rollback on insurance regulation and hospital restrictions, along with less government intervention in the economy. Many will note that in 2013, government spending was already 48 percent of the total for healthcare, and yet costs do not seem to be coming down. They might even point to the historical example of Nelson Rockefeller, who tried to expand government coverage of people under Medicaid, but had to abandon the program after it became too expensive.

These are all valid concerns, yet we run up against several problems. To begin with, as long as hospitals find it difficult to deny care to those who cannot pay, fellow travelers will end up footing the bill. Private insurance already acts like a placeholder of sorts for the government in these situations, but they simply amp up premiums on others to support the weaker links. Further complicating matters on the insurance side is the McCarran-Ferguson Act of 1945, which granted sweetheart exemptions to the insurance industry from federal antitrust laws, making it harder to prevent price gouging.

At least for the purer conservatives and libertarians, antitrust restrictions are a troubling question, appearing to some as a needless restriction on liberty. Others term them “anticompetitive,” and claim such legislation was only implemented to benefit industry actors who were losing market share. The front is thus not unified, although the House did vote overwhelmingly to approve a repeal of McGarran-Ferguson in 2010, only to see it die in the Senate.

The bigger issue being left out of the free market argument is the effect which lifestyle has on personal health. It’s easy enough to note that people must take responsibility for their own diet and exercise regimen, but this view fails to acknowledge contributing health factors sourced in other areas. If we fail to properly regulate food production, for example, we might well have hog waste getting into the water supply, if not the ham itself. The consequences have been algal blooms and massive fish casualties, yet who knows how many humans might already be affected.

Permitting high levels of added sugar in cereals or snacks is another problem. Sure, people are responsible for their own actions, but children will be capricious over what they want. In some cases, those kids might have been raised consuming junk, and not know any different. The mere availability of unhealthy foods might also result in them being consumed because of convenience, particularly if there is no existing market for healthier alternative in close proximity.

Sensible regulation is an obvious solution, with the EU providing baselines, but conservatives and libertarians will often come out against any further government control – while also demanding free market healthcare. Clearly this poses a problem. If people are eating garbage products because “it’s good for the economy,” then they will likely drive up costs after developing conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Unless care is entirely individualized, with people “only paying for what they need,” and those unable to pay getting denied service, even private sector insurance will end up subsidizing them through risk pools and higher premiums. In other words, everyone gets charged more.

Thus we are left with a conundrum. Either we must overhaul food production and environmental protections to prevent disease in the first place, or make everyone pay out of pocket for their needs alone. As long as insurance plays a leading role however, the latter idea remains a wistful thought.