The Ayn Rand Center Responds To The Obamacare Verdict
Government has been tightening its grip on the economy for more than a century. Obamacare is one major step down that road.
This is an unhappy moment for freedom’s supporters. Obamacare will continue the government’s long and ugly track record of regulating American health care. In the short term, the results will be higher costs, less competition, less innovation, more bureaucracy, decreased quality. In the long run, the result will be the complete destruction of American health care, as the system’s problems are inevitably blamed on our ‘private’ health care system and a fully socialized “single payer” medicine is offered up as the only cure.
But supporters of bigger government should think twice before celebrating. For those of us who believe that the Founding Fathers would have never stood for bringing medicine under the thumb of bureaucrats, the fight to limit government continues. Today will serve only to reenergize us.
A sad day for opponents of Obamacare.
But the Supreme Court’s ruling on the individual mandate should not be surprising. The government, through the tax code, already seeks to control in countless ways what we buy and don’t buy. The deduction on mortgage interest is the government “encouraging” you to buy a home. Sin taxes on cigarettes and alcohol are the government penalizing you for smoking and drinking. Apparently, the individual mandate is being placed in a similar category: the government is penalizing you for not purchasing health insurance.
What about the distinction between activity and inactivity, the idea that now the government has the effrontery to penalize us for not doing something?
Leaving aside the legal intricacies of interpreting the commerce clause (and the tax code), the argument that the government can legitimately control all forms of economic action but must not touch inaction, was never plausible philosophically. This is the argument, as law professor John Yoo put it, that in America the “court has never upheld a federal law that punishes Americans for exercising their God-given right to do absolutely nothing.”
But the “God-given right to do absolutely nothing” (and so to wither away and die) is not what America is about. The Declaration of Independence does not mention this among our rights: it lists the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. There are rights to take action—free from the coercive control of government. Properly understood, these rights include the freedom of action to earn and keep property and enter only into those contracts you so choose. Properly understood, these rights mean that you should be free economically to purchase or not purchase health insurance from willing sellers. Period.
And this I think is where the battle for America’s heart and mind must be fought. We must fight for our right to produce and trade free from government dictates. Gone should be a tax code that uses carrots and sticks to try to control our behavior; gone should be all the subsidies to individuals and corporations; gone should be all the regulations that tell companies what they can produce and how they must produce it and that tell us what we are permitted to buy and not buy.
In the short term, this might mean working to repeal Obamacare. In the longer term, it means proudly asserting that among what the Declaration promises to all Americans is our full right to economic freedom. We must settle for nothing less.
As disappointed as I am by the Court’s decision, I am not surprised. Although many in America still pay lip service to limited government and economic freedom, it’s been clear for a long time that nothing the government wants to control, regulate, tax, or interfere with is off limits.
How did we get to this point? Through a series of small and not so small compromises and concessions. Instead of standing on principle for limited government, we said that the government can redistribute wealth and regulate industries like health care “just a little”—and then a little more, and then a little more. If ever there was an illustration of Ayn Rand’s point that compromising on capitalism is the road to statism, Obamacare is it.
The next step for anyone who values American freedom is to draw a line in the sand: Fight any government action, policy, or proposal that violates individual rights. Call for a repeal of Obamacare, yes. But don’t just hold up a stop sign. Get to work fighting for a positive agenda: a fully free market in health care.
I grew up in the U.K. where I became intimately familiar with what happens when government controls health care, as it does under the National Health Service. Many well-meaning doctors and nurses work in the NHS; many valiantly strive to do their right by their patients; the system itself, though, inexorably devalues human lives. Because of inevitable shortages, rationing and regulatory control, the stories abound of patients left to wither, sometimes even to die, in the waiting rooms — or on long waiting lists for necessary surgery, lists so long that people who would stand a chance of survival if they were treated, simply don’t have the four extra months it would take to get into the O.R. Growing up, I recall a number of high-profile cases — splashed across the newspapers and television — of acutely sick children who couldn’t get the needed care under the NHS, but thanks to charity and their parent’s initiative, were flown to — where else? — the United States to receive immediate, life-saving care.
That is what is at stake for the future of health care in America. Obamacare is a major step toward ever greater government control over health care. That end game may well be some form of single-payer system–a euphemism, really, for something truly abhorrent. Now that that Obamacare has been essentially upheld, we must redouble the fight for a free market in health care.
The Anti-Dog-Eat-Dog Rule. The Equalization of Opportunity Bill. Obamacare.
The first two items are fictional laws in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged that are crafted by lobbyists, power-lusting politicians and immoral businessmen. These laws were aimed at robbing successful businessmen and industries of their earned wealth in the name of forcing them to satisfy an arbitrary and increasing list of demands in the name of the “public interest”. What happened in this fictional world? The United States collapsed as one by one those of ability and integrity refused to continue subjecting themselves to the unearned guilt being loaded on them. Without the producers, there is nothing to loot.
Obamacare, of course, is all too real. Its basis and effects are similar to those of the fictional laws I’ve just described. Because the Supreme Court has not seen fit to strike it down, we will now have to live with its consequences. Those consequences are to force the able to pay for the health insurance of the disabled, to force all Americans to carry and pay for health insurance even if they judge that they don’t need it and to render impossible the task of insurance companies of assessing and pooling actuarial risk.
Ayn Rand wrote Atlas Shrugged with the hope that it would serve as a warning and never come true. The Supreme Court’s decision on Obamacare is a clear indication that the need for her warning is more urgent now than ever.
Another devastating consequence of Obamacare is that it imposes significant new obstacles to running a business, especially in the service industry. Andrew Puzder, the CEO of CKE Restaurants, which employs 21,000 people in Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. restaurants, estimates that his company’s health care costs will skyrocket by $18 million per year—a 150% increase on top of the $12 million they normally spend.
The additional burden from Obamacare cuts into the savings that corporations need to grow. Puzder expects that his company will need to reduce new restaurant construction, and will likely have to lower their standards for upkeeping existing locations. White Castle expects to lose 55% of its revenue to new health care costs, which will stunt their growth in a similar fashion. And less business growth means less jobs.
Other companies may be too small to bear the additional burden. Grady Payne, the CEO of a supplier of wood products named Conner Industries, estimates that the new health care law will cost his company at least $1 million per year. But this is more than his company makes. What will they have to cut to survive?
To stay alive, businesses need their revenue to exceed their costs. Obamacare substantially increases the cost of labor for many businesses. This will cripple businesses operating on razor-thin profit margins who cannot afford to offer lavish employee benefits.
The health insurance industry is one of the most controlled industries in America. Even before the passage of Obamacare, the government had its tentacles in every aspect of the business—from licensing who can sell insurance and where, to dictating how they price their policies, to demanding to whom they must sell their services, to mandating what benefits they must include in policies, to restricting how they market their services. Obamacare just fastens one more chain around the neck of an industry that is already in a regulatory chokehold.
But government is not the remedy to our health insurance problems—it is the disease that has plagued this country’s health care woes and Obamacare will only exacerbate them.
The cure is to liberate health insurance companies to offer their products and services on an unrestricted market and free Americans to purchase the coverage that works best for them.