In my post of 6/21/09, I commented in part on a post by hsteach (also known as Josh W.). However, there is more to his comments than those to which I referred. He begins with a question. It is the kind of question that causes pro-free marketeers to stumble. It is the kind of question that demonstrates the need for and importance of philosophy.
hsteach. asks (11:12 PM on Friday Jun 19):
“I guess I should state my bias before I begin to explain it. I think the first question that needs to be answered here is this: should a person die because he/she can't afford necessary treatment?”
This is a classic type of question posed by collectivists. The question can be restated many times over, substituting the word “treatment” with “food”, “clothing”, “shelter”, “transportation”, etc. The question is designed to ignore all context, and demand a one-word answer. If one says “yes”, he is automatically branded as immoral and evil. If “no”, he is a paragon of virtue. The question is intended as a weapon of unilateral moral disarmament. The purpose is to shut down debate on today’s most crucial domestic issue…the future of American healthcare. That and similar questions are an altruistic trap, packaging compassion with collectivism/socialism and cruelty with individualism/free market capitalism.
The question attempts to pass off an intellectual package deal. Implied is the collectivist notion that there exists some entity (i.e., society, the state, the community, etc.) that supercedes the sovereignty of the individuals who make up a nation, and that possesses the authority to answer the above question independent of the desires and rights of those individuals. In other words, what lies behind the question is the idea that an individual does not own his own life…i.e., the tribal premise.
The questions that first must be addressed are: Where does the “necessary treatment” come from?; and how does one acquire it?
Nature does not provide man with even the most basic of life’s necessities, let alone anything even resembling advanced medical treatment. Everything human beings need must be discovered and produced by a process of thought applied to productive work. Since the mind is an attribute only of the individual, not any group or collective, man’s survival depends upon the efforts of individual human beings; whether working alone or in cooperation with others. Put another way, each adult individual must earn his own keep. He must produce through his own mind and labor that which he needs and desires, or acquire it from others. There are only two ways, essentially, to acquire that which one does not produce; by voluntary trade to mutual advantage in which one’s own work is exchanged for that of others, or by force. In a moral society…i.e., laissez-faire capitalism…all force is banned from human relationships except in self-defense. This means that if an agreement for an exchange (a trade) between two or more individuals can not be reached voluntarily, it does not and can not take place. Put another way: If you cannot afford something, no matter how valuable or needed, you can’t have it unless someone agrees to provide it to you as an act of charity and good will.
But, no one can claim the right to dispose of the earnings, property, and lives of others. To be more precise, no one can claim the right to loot and enslave another human being or beings. Rights are a government-protected sanction for each individual to take the actions necessary for the support and furtherance of his own life, contingent upon his respecting the same rights of all others. Freedom of speech, association, religion, and the acquisition and possession of property one earns are rights. Rights are not an automatic claim upon the earnings, property, or skills produced by others…such as the “right” to healthcare, food, or shelter.
Therefor, hsteach’s question is properly and morally left up to the independent judgement and choice of each of us as individuals. No one may answer “no”, as hsteach does, only to demand that others be forced to pay for any healthcare expense of his (or anyone’s) that he deems “unaffordable”. Need is not a license to steal. No one can claim a right to the products and services produced by others, apart from what one can pay for either out-of-pocket or by prior voluntary contractual agreement (such as insurance), or through voluntary charity.
Neither “society” nor any group by any name exists as an independent entity, apart from the individual members of that group. In a moral society, therefor, no person or group of persons…no matter how large in number…may violate the rights of even a single member, whether disguised behind “democracy”, the “public good”, “compassion”, or what have you. Since lives and property belong only to independent, sovereign human beings, it is beyond the power of any individual, such as hsteach, to answer that question for anyone else. That question above is applicable and answerable only by free individuals based upon each person’s own self-interest; on one’s judgement as to the worthiness of the recipient, one’s values, and one’s ability to afford to assist another. Anyone who claims the right to force his “no” to the above question on others, at the expense of their property and rights, is a predator and a phony.
As stated above, the question can be applied to all manner of manmade goods, as a justification for socialism. But as has been shown in theory and in practice, the degree of a nation's prosperity…and, I might add, the degree of a nation's generosity toward the helpless…is directly related to the degree to which a nation’s people enjoy the individual freedom of production and trade. But cause and effect can not be reversed. Through most of human history - and in non-free socialist /collectivist countries up to the present - grinding poverty, disease, premature suffering and death were and are the norm. Right up to the dawn of capitalism and the industrial revolution that it spawned, even the most “advanced” cultures, such as 18th century England, suffered mortality rates of up to 75% for children under the age of five. It was and is capitalistic economic and political freedom that made possible the medical advances (the “necessary treatments”) that spread through the general population, dramatically reducing the child mortality rates and raising the short life expectancies of pre-capitalist eras. Just as with cars, printers and copiers, computers, food, clothing, and the myriad of goods available to us in the relatively free segments of the economy, the natural incentives inherent in a free market can and will drive down the price and raise the quality of healthcare. The desire of people spending their own money to get as much value for their dollars, coupled with the desire of producers to expand markets, sales and, thus, profits, have been unequivocally proven to work in practice and theory. Most importantly, freedom is moral because it is a metaphysical requirement of human life.
The tremendous productive energy that is unleashed under the political principles of the individual’s unalienable rights to his own life, liberty, property, and pursuit of happiness will be extinguished to the extent that those principles are abandoned in favor of a predatory, collective society. So, too, will the benevolence and good will among people that is a natural consequence of a rights-respecting and -protecting society.
Ending what’s left of the social conditions of freedom that brought us widely available advanced medicine is insane, and will lead to the very thing that hsteach answers “no” to. People routinely suffer and die in medically socialized nations, including in “progressive” Europe, because the state cannot “afford the necessary treatments”. What does anyone think “cost containment” and “comparative effectiveness” means in practice? As the last bastion of semi-free medicine – America – gets swallowed by the socialist central planners, the prop…the safety valve…supporting socialized systems of Europe and elsewhere will be kicked out. Then we will see the widening spread of people who die because of being denied the “necessary treatment” by fiscally collapsing governments, coupled with the spreading drought of competent doctors and other healthcare professionals…the kind who don’t submit to slavery.
So, when confronted with any variant of that loaded question, one must answer the questioner with an emphatic: “It depends! It depends upon the person, his character and moral standing, his relationship to me, my ability to afford to help, and any other criteria I deem relevant to my values…as determined by my judgement. I am not my brothers’ keeper, and it is not within my power to determine the fate of every person who may ‘die because he/she can't afford necessary treatment’, and neither is it yours.” The only way to defuse that question is to expose and reject the false premises behind it. One must reject the idea that human beings are sacrificial lambs whose lives are anchored to every personal tragedy of every needy person in the nation or on the globe. One must proudly assert that no one has an automatic claim on the lives and property of others. One must unequivocally defend one’s own selfish right to one’s own life.
On a broad contextual level, by advocating socialism in American medicine, hsteach is in effect answering “yes” to his own question. Those of us who advocate a return to free markets and individual freedom and personal responsibility in healthcare are the true moral and compassionate ones, answering with the emphatic “NO” that only capitalism can make possible.