Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Letter to a Sincere Leftist

Dear Friend on the Left,

...I never thought I'd say this: let us join together in a common cause.

Let us work together to defeat the health-care bill that is about to be passed by the Senate. Although we've been on opposite sides on nearly every issue and have very different motives, I think we can find common ground in opposing this legislation. Please hear me out.

I have complained that the health-care bill is a big step toward socialism, but in the final form passed by the Senate, I have to admit that it is not a socialist bill, at least not in the form the contemporary left wants: a "single-payer" system in which government directly takes over the financing of medical care. Of course, it certainly isn't a pro-free-market bill, either. Instead, it's the worst monstrosity of all: a vicious intertwining of state power with nominally private corporations.

One of your own, Jane Hamsher, has offered a criticism that cuts to the very heart of what this bill does: she complains that it requires Americans to pay "8% of their incomes to private corporations who will use the IRS as their collection agency." That is the meaning of the "individual mandate," the requirement that everyone is forced to buy health insurance or pay a fine enforced by criminal penalties meted out by the IRS. She is right to point out the obscenity of the government forcing us to patronize private corporations, and she even understates the magnitude of the problem. Eight percent of our income is how much we will be required to pay before we can qualify for a government subsidy; above that point, insurance companies will get our 8% plus even more of our money paid directly to them by the government.

To state it precisely, what this bill does is to create a government-sponsored, government-subsidized cartel of private health insurance companies. It requires all new insurance policies to be offered on a government-created exchange regulated by a government bureaucrat, and it requires those policies to conform to certain government rules about how much the insurers can charge and about accepting customers with pre-existing conditions. In return, it offers the insurance companies a huge set of government favors, chief among them the individual mandate which is supposed to supply the insurers with a huge new captive market of unwilling customers.

This is the deal that the insurance companies made with the devil. They chose to become creatures of the state—so long as the state agreed to feed them. And that, my new friends on the left, is what ought to really provoke your outrage. The state is now committed to the care and feeding of its pet insurance companies.

I don't think this is actually going to work out so well for the insurance companies, by the way, but that's the theory about how it's supposed to work. And that's the ideal that the Democratic Party leadership is trying to sell to you.

At the risk of running afoul of Godwin's Law, I have to point out that if this is socialism, it is socialism on the fascist model. Wasn't it Mussolini who pioneered the system of creating state-sponsored cartels that controlled each industry, mingling public power with private profit?

Is this what you elected a Democratic majority to enact?

Let's be honest. This bill doesn't reduce health insurance premiums or make insurance more affordable. No one really believes that it's going to reduce health-care costs or improve the solvency of the government. But what it does do is to give the political elites in Washington a finger in the enormous multi-billion-dollar pie of the big insurance companies.

The rap against the left—from folks on my side of the political debate—is that you don't really care about principles or the good of the republic, that all of the left's programs are just intended to concentrate more power among the political elites and unelected bureaucrats in Washington, DC. And from where I stand, this rotten health-care bill serves as confirmation of that. Please prove us wrong.

I know a health-care bill is a longstanding dream of yours, and you are loath to let this opportunity—a Democratic president and a filibuster-proof Democratic majority in Congress—pass you by. But the dream is already dead, and your own political leadership killed it. You have already had to deal with the condescension of these leaders, who sell out your principles and then give you a line about taking half a loaf and being practical about political realities, and—say, we can still count your votes next November, can't we, fellas? And that's exactly what they think. They are actually counting on you to be excited and enthusiastic about this bill and to protect their jobs next year. As usual, they want your votes, your money, and your organizational energy—at election time. After which they will go about the usual business of tacking to the center and compromising and finding excuses to go along with the consensus. Believe me, I know what it's like. It's what principled pro-free-marketers have had to put up with for years from the leaders of the Republican Party. And you can see how well it worked out for us.

From my experience with the past decade of political disasters on the right, I can tell you that you are better off killing this bill, because all it will accomplish is to discredit your cause by associating it with a badly cobbled together, dreadfully unpopular piece of legislation. Tell the political leadership of the Democratic Party to drop this bill and start over again.

So let us join together, the pro-free-market right and the far left marching arm in arm and shoulder to shoulder to beat this bill. You object to it because it captures the power of the state for corporations. We object to it because it captures corporations for the state, so that these companies are no longer truly private actors in a free market. Our motives are different, but this is an issue on which we can find common ground: the unholy merger of state power and big corporations.

The libertarians in our ranks might opt for the motto: smash the power of the state. You might prefer: smash the power of the corporations. But here's one I hope we can all agree on: smash the state power of the corporations!

Robert Tracinski writes daily commentary at TIADaily.com. He is the editor of The Intellectual Activist and TIADaily.com.

No comments: