Tuesday, March 28, 2017

But I Don't WANT it to Work!


"Universal healthcare access is coming. Stop fighting it and start figuring out how to make it work." That's the title of a piece by Ed Dolan at the Niskanen Center.

Of course "universal healthcare access" is a euphemism for "socialized" or "single payer" healthcare. It doesn't mean that everyone will get healthcare. It means that  people who pay more for healthcare now will get less of it so that people who pay less for healthcare now can get more of it.

But that's not the topic of this post. I'm less interested in the details of single payer healthcare than I am in this "liberaltarian" notion (as represented by Niskanen, Bleeding Heart Libertarians, et al.) that libertarians should worry less about dismantling the state and its schemes and more about making those schemes "work."

In fact, at some point I'll be doing a pro/con exchange with Steve Trinward on the "Basic Income Guarantee/Universal Basic Income" idea that's being pitched with increasing frequency these days by liberaltarians as a way to make delivering welfare state benefits less expensive and more efficient, which represents the same problem I have with Dolan's approach to healthcare.

To wit, both of those things are bad ideas both morally/ideologically and as a practical matter.

On the moral/ideological end of things, the liberaltarian case is that we should support (or at least find ways to work with) single-payer healthcare and a basic income guarantee because they can make some things better for some people.

That's true as far as it goes. But it's also true for burglary. If burglary is legal, I can go around stealing and pawning people's big-screen TVs and make good money, right? But stealing is wrong. And the only way the state can hand out free stuff -- be it healthcare or monthly checks or whatever -- to one person or group of people is to steal from, or enslave, some other person or group of people. Single payer healthcare and basic income guarantee schemes fail the most basic moral test per libertarianism.

As a practical matter, they also fail on two other metrics:


  1. Suppose the scheme "works." Congratulations. You did something immoral and got the result you wanted. But if your aim is to abolish, or at least minimize the size, scope and power of, the state, you just accomplished the opposite of your goal. Making the state's schemes "work" perpetuates the state and its schemes. Accomplishing some side goal in a way that works against your real ultimate goal is not a win, it's a loss.
  2. These schemes can only work temporarily, and the longer the sugar high lasts the harder the comedown is going to be. Ask the Venezuelans how state socialism is working out for them. Making single payer health care or a basic income guarantee "work" for now means more harm to more people later. Better to let these schemes fall apart on their own than to help the state stretch them out until the inevitable correction looks like the Holodomor.

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