William Felkner: Freedom Is the Cost of Social Justice
On January 28, the London Telegraph reported that 10 percent of the city’s hospitals had denied surgeries to smokers and the obese. Doctors were warning the elderly that they were next; “the health care system cannot afford to give free health care to everyone.”
In Canada, citizens weren’t allowed to use anything but government healthcare. But so many people died waiting for care that the Supreme Court reversed the law and ruled, “access to a waiting list is not access to health care.” Yet, this legal battle continues.
For many of us, this is no surprise. Socialized medicine is devoid of competition and consumer investment, and therefore costs rise out of control. But the issue here isn’t the fallacy of universal health care; it’s how much freedom we are willing to give up for the benefits we receive.
Ayn Rand once said that the difference between a welfare state and a totalitarian state is a matter of time. It appears that that time is now in many parts of the world. London decides who is worthy of care, and Canada holds its market captive like America holds the poor in public schools. Oppression sells its wares under the guise of “social justice” demanding that the government’s safety net instead become society’s fabric. Once people become dependant, individual freedom is lost.
So, when Governor Caricieri announced that some of our tax dollars would be used to discourage out of wedlock childbirths and promote marriage, the reception was less than homey. Government isn’t supposed to help people make choices; it is simply supposed to write them checks.
But for those of us who truly relish freedom, this is indeed a perplexing situation. It is beyond debate that two biological parents constitute the preferred environment for a child. But does government have the authority to influence lifestyle, or, dare I say, “moral” choices? The governor’s response was the only logical statement anyone might accept: “If taxpayers must pay for other people’s lifestyle choices, we have the right to influence those choices.”
In a market driven social service world, people put their money with groups representing the values they support. Secular or not, donations were a way for people to “make the world a better place” in a manner the donors found worthy. But it’s not like that anymore — at least not in RI.
Rhode Islanders like to say they are compassionate, but that compassion isn’t voluntary. In 2005, the Catalog of Philanthropy released a report called the Generosity Index that ranked states on their “giving.” Rhode Island ranked second lowest in the nation on the amount of money donated to charity according to itemized deductions. During that same year, RI spending on public assistance programs was the third highest in the country. And this is nothing new. Our “giving rank” from 1997 to 2004 (most recent year reported) was either 49th or 50th.
So now that we have developed a system that dictates a high level of government-enforced charity, whose morals will we use to administer it? Even if the proceeds are derived by coercion and government charity is given without condition, it becomes a value system that sends serious economic and moral signals. Rather than representing the absence of judgment, the evaporation of stigma within our politically correct, amoral government welfare state is a choice of values.
For all the ink that has been spilt deriding the president’s insistence on “staying the course” after four years of resistance in the Iraq War, you would think progressives so critical of Bush would have recognized the same problem after 40 years of failure in the War on Poverty.
Welfare reform was nibbling around the edges of entitlement. For a real surge in morals, charity would have to be, well, charitable. The best we can hope for with government in the driver’s seat is the finger-in-the-air test. Seventy-nine percent of American parents want teens to be taught abstinence until marriage, or at least until they are in adult relationships leading to marriage. They’ve got a much taller challenge on the other side of the pond, where 80 percent of the overtaxed Brits still want to pay for “social” abortions as medical entitlements.
First of all, I’m very glad “social” abortions are not yet in the RI lexicon, and I’m not even sure what they are, but I know I don’t want my money paying for them. On the other hand, I also don’t want to tell others how to spend their money, as long as it’s legal, even when I’m with the majority, I fear its tyranny.
Society can strike a balance between The Scarlet Letter and Murphy Brown. It is far better that this dynamic process takes place without the fear that the government will pick the winner. Instead competing value systems can exist simultaneously, and their successes and failures can inform one another. The best deal we can possibly hope for is for government to recede a bit, making space for private action to strengthen the fabric of society with the safety net remaining just that.
If society does continue government-administered charity, we must accept a little totalitarianism. Me, I prefer freedomism.
William Felkner is the president of the Ocean State Policy Research Institute.