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The Circle Bastiat

NYT got it wrong on the health care big picture

New York Times columnist David Leonhardt wrote about Obamacare. Here's a contrasting opinion.

By Jeffrey TuckerGuest blogger / December 16, 2010

Ivy Williams, right, and Richmond Nguyen, left, both home health care workers in Seattle, stand next to symbolic empty wheelchairs as they demonstrate against state budget cuts outside of Wash. Gov. Chris Gregoire's office in Olympia, Wash., Dec. 15.

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David Leonhardt speaks as the wise one from on high, assuring readers that opposition to Obamacare is part of the American tradition of individualism and laissez-faire. This is one tradition, he says, while another is centralist and collectivist. It’s true enough, I suppose, just as you can say that society has a long tradition of peaceful people and war-like people just as the natural world has a long tradition of parasites and hosts. I suppose that one could call the relationship between the robber and the robbed a kind of “tension” but that glosses over certain realities. He goes wrong in his assertion made against all evidence that both have made mighty contributions.

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The opposition stems from the tension between two competing traditions in the American economy. One is the laissez-faire tradition that celebrates individuality and risk-taking. The other is the progressive tradition that says people have a right to a minimum standard of living — time off from work, education and the like.

Both traditions have been crucial to creating the most prosperous economy and the largest middle class the world has ever known. Laissez-faire conservatism has helped make the United States a nation of entrepreneurs, while progressivism has helped make prosperity a mass-market phenomenon.

This is nuts. Government has done nothing to make prosperity part of a mass market. If you want to look at the mass market, look to WalMart, grocery stores, Amazon, global trade, malls, the wage system, capital accumulation and investment, and all the elements of the commercial society that work together to slavishly serve the consumer and spread prosperity and material blessings throughout the whole population.

And what does government do? It taxes those blessing and builds up its own power to lord it over society with a long litany of lies about the great good it is doing. In some ways, there are reasons to regret the term “individualism” because it too narrowly defines the scope of the market. The market protects individual rights but serves the whole of society, defined in the most global way possible. A better word for the market might actually be socialism, if that word weren’t already taken, simple because the whole of society benefits from laissez-faire.

With regard to health care, the major reason for the high prices and dislocations are government restrictions, programs, and interventions of all sorts. This is the reason for the existing problems. More government intervention will do nothing to correct them but instead will lead to ever more rationing, technological stagnation, and deprivations of all kinds.

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