Thursday, December 02, 2004

A Question for the Proponents of Universal Health Care

First an observation, then the question. Food, shelter, and clothing are more fundamental, more important, than health care in that one can get along for substantial periods of time without health care but one cannot survive for long without food, shelter, and clothing. Given this plain fact, why don’t the proponents of ‘free’ universal health care demand ‘free’ food, shelter, and clothing? In other words, if a citizen, just in virtue of being a citizen, has a right to health care, why doesn’t the same citizen have the right to what is more fundamental, namely, food, shelter, and clothing?

This question suggests two arguments, a conservative modus tollens and a socialist modus ponens:

If there is a right to health care, then there is a right to food, shelter, and clothing.
There is no right to food, shelter, and clothing.
Therefore, there is no right to health care.


If there is a right to health care, then there is a right to food, shelter, and clothing.
There is a right to health care.
Therefore, there is a right to food, shelter, and clothing.


Given that the first premise in both arguments is true, why isn’t the conclusion of the socialist argument a reductio ad absurdum of its second premise?

A government big enough and powerful enough to provide one with ‘free’ health care will be in an excellent position to demand ‘appropriate’ behavior from its citizens – and to enforce its demand. Suppose you enjoy risky sports such as motorcycling, hang-gliding, mountain-climbing and the like. A government that pays for the treatment of your injuries can easily decide, on economic grounds alone, to forbid such activites ‘for your own good.’ The same goes for a range of other ‘behaviors’ including eating, drinking, and smoking habits.

The situation is analogous to living with one’s parents. It is entirely appropriate for parents to say to a child: ‘As long as you live under our roof, eat at our table, and we pay the bills, then you must abide by our rules. When you are on your own, you may do as you please.’ The difference, of course, is that it is relatively easy to move out on one’s own, but difficult to forsake one’s homeland.