Ethics Quote Of The Month: Dr. Jonathan Gruber

“We currently have a highly discriminatory system where if you’re sick, if you’ve been sick or [if] you’re going to get sick, you cannot get health insurance. The only way to end that discriminatory system is to bring everyone into the system and pay one fair price. That means that the genetic winners, the lottery winners who’ve been paying an artificially low price because of this discrimination now will have to pay more in return. And that, by my estimate, is about four million people. In return, we’ll have a fixed system where over 30 million people will now for the first time be able to access fairly price and guaranteed health insurance.”

—– Dr. Jonathan Gruber of MIT, an economics professor who is among the designers of the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a Obamacare. He was interviewed by NBC’s Chuck Todd regarding the troubled law’s problems.


Could it be that the act of getting involved with this administration turns even non-politicians into deceivers and liars? For an economist to talk so deceitfully and manipulatively is distressing. He, of all people, certainly knows how insurance works, and has to work. The insurance company accepts, in essence, wagers from its insured, in the form of premiums, that they will “win” by incurring health care costs that require more funds more than the accumulated “wagers.” The insurance company gambles that it will “win” by the insured remaining relatively healthy, so that the premiums (and whatever investment income they generate) exceed what the company has to pay in medical costs for that individual. The only way a company can keep providing insurance is to win more bets than it loses.

Saying that an insurance company is “discriminating” (in the unjust and biased sense) when it refuses to  accept a wager that is virtually certain to win is like saying that a poker player is engaging in discriminatory conduct by refusing to play with a new player who brings a royal flush to the table with him. It is not discrimination to refuse to lose money, and Gruber knows it. But  like an expert liar, as I must presume he is, he plants a false definition of discrimination at the beginning of his discussion and then treats it as an agreed-upon description of what is occurring. Not selling something to a customer who can’t afford a fair price is not discrimination, and refusing to gamble with someone who is assured of winning is also not discrimination. But discrimination is something that everyone regards as wrong, unfair, and unlawful, so that is how the lawful operation of insurance companies is framed by this clever, learned, dishonest man.

I no longer trust Dr. Gruber, nor should you.

His statement is of additional interest, however, because it starkly defines the unique Progressive definition of “fairness,” by his repeated use of lottery imagery to describe the fact that some people, through no fault of their own, have fewer advantages than others, while those others, often through no virtue of their own, have more resources and opportunities. Progressives regard this as inherently wrong and unfair, and so unfair that it must be remedied by obtrusive government interference. The rest of America regards this as “life.”

Life isn’t unfair, as Jimmy Carter famously declared. Life is life, that’s all. Fairness isn’t part of the deal, and never was. The Declaration of Independence properly and completely states what human rights are absolute, and “fairness” is nowhere to be found. Nor should it be—not the kind of fairness that Progressives advocate, which can only be achieved by diminishing one of those three key rights that Jefferson did list. That “inalienable right,” of course, is liberty.

Clarence Darrow was an early Progressive, and he is one of my heroes. For Darrow, however, fairness was an extreme concept. He believed that it was unfair to punish criminals, because he did not believe in free will. As he said in his famous closing argument in the Leopold and Loeb “thrill killing” trial:

The reason I talk to you on the question of crime, its cause and cure, is because I really do not in the least believe in crime. There is no such thing as a crime as the word is generally understood. I do not believe there is any sort of distinction between the real moral condition of the people in and out of jail. One is just as good as the other. The people here can no more help being here than the people outside can avoid being outside. I do not believe that people are in jail because they deserve to be. They are in jail simply because they cannot avoid it on account of circumstances which are entirely beyond their control and for which they are in no way responsible. – See more at:

“The reason I talk to you on the question of crime, its cause and cure, is because I really do not in the least believe in crime. There is no such thing as a crime as the word is generally understood. I do not believe there is any sort of distinction between the real moral condition of the people in and out of jail. One is just as good as the other. The people here can no more help being here than the people outside can avoid being outside. I do not believe that people are in jail because they deserve to be. They are in jail simply because they cannot avoid it on account of circumstances which are entirely beyond their control and for which they are in no way responsible.”

Of course, punishing people for conditions, deficits and failings for which they are “in no way responsible” is terribly unfair. But this mindset and assumption,  which is the very heart of progressivism, is also in conflict with the basic American values that the nation was built upon. This is what hyperbolic critics like Mark Levin mean when they say that “Barack Obama and his followers hate America” and want to “fundamentally transform it.” Darrow, whose target was the law, rather than social welfare, was not shy about saying that he “hated the law” for the same reason. He, like current progressives, believed that it is unfair, and thus unethical and wrong, for there to be winners and losers in life because life is a big lottery, and nothing more. That makes government’s role to eliminate the unfair distance between the lucky winners and the unfortunate losers.

Thus progressive “fairness” entails forcibly taking away from the winners what they have been given, acquired or earned due to good fortune. To Jefferson, his followers and philosophical heirs, and the supporters of traditional American values, that is the opposite of fairness. Fairness is being allowed to keep, use and build upon what you have acquired legally, be it health, intelligence, talent, nobility, wisdom. wealth, opportunity, or, yes, lottery winnings—to rise or fall, succeed or fail, win or lose, based on the hand Life has dealt you, without third parties swooping in and telling you that the fruits of your achievements are excessive and unfair.

I think the traditions, history, culture and founding documents of the U.S. embrace the latter definition of fairness. I am not saying it is necessarily correct and just  (I believe it is, but that argument is too long to make here), but I am saying that it is the definition this nation began with, and has served us well. If we are  to abandon it, the adherents of such a radical course have an obligation to make it clear to all that what they are proposing is that Americans should abandon the commitment to self-reliance, autonomy and liberty that is the beating heart of traditional and historical American fairness, in exchange for one devoted to undoing the results of life’s chaos and random chance, what Dr. Gruber calls a “lottery.”

Let me be clear: what he calls fair, I call madness. Here is an example from the news:

Aaron Carter, once a pop teen sensation, has filed for bankruptcy at the tender age of 25. In court documents, he states that he has assets worth $8,232.16,  including computers and music equipment and $60 in cash, and owes creditors more than $2 million. Of that debt, he owes the Internal Revenue Service an outstanding tax bill totaling $1,368,140.  In 2009, the IRS slapped Carter with a million dollar lien. Yes, Carter earned tens of millions of dollars before he was 21, and now is broke. Forbes quotes his  former “Dancing with the Stars” partner, Karina Smirnoff, as saying, “I don’t see why he can be held responsible.”

She’s a good progressive, presumably. Of course he is responsible.

It is not fair for me to have to help pay for Aaron Carter’s health care, or food stamps, or anything else. I know that Darrow would say that it’s not his fault that he’s an irresponsible idiot, that he was just born and raised that way. Perhaps—I don’t care. Idiots can hire financial managers, and if they don’t, the government is not being “fair” by forcing me to subsidize any aspect of his survival at all.

Do I care if he gets sick? Sure I do—this is the current mantra against opponents of Obamacare, that they are coldly unconcerned about their fellow citizen’s health. I’m not unconcerned, but I deny that I have any obligation at all to use my hard earned funds to help Aaron Carter after he pissed away more money than I will ever see in a lifetime. I want him to stay healthy and have a long life. But I’m not paying for his mistakes, unless someone forces me, and if someone does, damn them.

My son has a friend who doesn’t have a regular job, spends much of his time stoned, and can’t afford health care. I’m pretty sure the money he spends on pot would pay for a good chunk of his health insurance bill, and to the extent Obamacare gives him supplements, paid for by my tax dollars, to allow him to get insured, it is making me pay, not for his health care, but for his pot. That’s not “fair” either.

We need to have an open and honest debate in this nation whether we believe in free will and individual responsibility still, or whether we agree with Darrow, Dr. Gruber and the progressive among us that free will is a myth, and that we should abandon the original national definition of fairness for one that demands capitulation to government power, well-intentioned though it might be.

Plug: This is as good an excuse to plug my Clarence Darrow book as ever. A great Christmas present! And yes, I am a co-author/editor, but since the other two were Clarence and Ed Larson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, you can’t tell from the Amazon link…unless you read the cover:

Darrow book



Facts: Forbes,  Real Clear Politics

26 thoughts on “Ethics Quote Of The Month: Dr. Jonathan Gruber

  1. VERY good essay, Jack. It well defines the yawning gulf of philosophy that separates the progressive and traditionalist worldviews. The concept of “fairness” is a key to this difference, but it extends to even more. I’ve often defined the leftist stance in reference to three elements; statism, secularism and socialism. The first and third are means of physical control, done for the “good” of the citizens (subjects, in fact) by a government powerful enough to control the essentials of life and, thereby, their behaviors by subtle or overt extortion.

    The fairness aspect, however, directly emits from the secularist angle. In such a society, where this life is the sum and total of all- and where no higher duty to a higher Power prevails- then fairness as a goal becomes all-important to the individual. But who defines fairness? The all-powerful government does.

    As C.S. Lewis (who died this day) so well put it, “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most noppressive”. And what’s worse, that “sincerity”, made the province of faceless bureaucrats, must always be held suspect.

    • I don’t like the term “traditionalist” as a descriptor. It implies the beliefs are held only because that’s “how it has always been”. No doubt a certain cluster of the group to the right are those who have reached their beliefs from the irrational premise of “change? What do you mean change? This is how its always been”. Of course it is a good premise to hold that don’t just change something just to change it, and that hesitance to change IS a good way to temper oneself from making turns in the wrong direction (hence our begrudgingly slow deliberative legislative system that is so bemoaned by the Leftists who just ended 200 years of process in what is meant to be the most deliberative of the Congressional houses).

      No, “traditionalist” is an inaccurate term except for those who do reach conclusions by elevating the virtue of moderation and wisdom as it regards cautious attitudes towards the new to a level that excludes all other virtues and considerations.

      • I don’t always use the term “traditionalist”, but I don’t quail from it, either. Strict adherence to tradition is as bad as “change” for change’s sake, as you mentioned. When in doubt, though, one should look to traditions. They’re not always right, good or relevant. But even the worst of them have or have had merit at some time, otherwise they would not have established themselves in first place.

        To me. the term applies not to truly unmerited practices of the past, such as (of course) slavery. I look to the greatest facets of our heritage which was, in turn, our greatest gift to mankind; the principles endowed by the founders and framers in the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution… infused with the virtues of the Gospels. That is a mighty heritage, indeed, and worth preserving at all costs.

        I see nothing in the progressive dogmas that can stand against them, either in the historical sense or the moral. No system that depends on vice, deceit and treachery to establish itself is worthy to rule over a great nation. The nations that have fallen prey to it have lost their former greatness with stunning rapidity. I’ve seen this in Europe. I see its slow, but accelerating progress here. Surely, nothing can be more digressive than progressivism- its very name a grand deceit in itself.

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  3. The problem is, every system that claims to believe it can make everything hunky dory through state imposition so everyone gets the same stuff always goes ONE route, and that route has led to the murder at the hands of their own governments over 150,000,000 people since early 1900s (and the most up to date estimate stopped in the late 80s). NOT counting those who died fighting the wars that freed some of the people from those regimes.

  4. We currently have a highly discriminatory system where if you’re sick, if you’ve been sick or [if] you’re going to get sick, you cannot get health insurance.

    And if your house has flammable brush surrounding it, you can not get fire insurance.

    And if you have multiple drunk driving convictions, you can not get auto insurance.

    I sense a pattern here…

  5. I have said this very thing – I am not responsible for paying for the bad decisions of others.

    A shame folks here like Beth dont agree that we have free will and are possessed with individual responsibility…

      • You need to be free to look. The pursuit of happiness doesn’t always lead you where you expect! The true value of the unalienable rights is the discoveries one makes along the road that, with wisdom and morality as the basis, shape life for the better. But you have to be free to search. There’s many a poor man whose life has been far more rewarding AND productive where it matters than any Beverly Hills denizen.

        Damn, I’m sounding stilted tonight! It must be the late hour and the cold front!

    • What are the chances that your house will burn down? What are the chances that you will be in a serious car accident? What are the chances that you cannot go on a planned vacation where you’ve already purchased plane tickets? What are the chances that you will be a victim of identity theft? What are the chances that your company will be the target of industrial espionage? Because ALL of those things I listed above involve “chances” (and I could have listed many more), insurance makes sense. For example, you are not going to save up an extra $300,000 to rebuild your house in case of a fire because the likelihood of this happening (absent arson) is pretty small. It doesn’t make economic sense. Insurance is the appropriate vehicle to protect that investment. (And if you have brush surrounding your home, depending on the terms of your policy, that just might mean that your claim is appropriately denied.)

      But, what are the chances you are going to need medical care? 100% — for everybody on the planet. And for most people, the answer is 100% every year of your life. That’s why insurance doesn’t make sense for medical coverage and why, again, I have to reiterate that I also do not support the ACA — like the Tea Party and Repub. people on this site — just for different reasons. Sure, you can do things to reduce your risk for certain diseases with a good diet and exercise, but you can’t avoid medical care. And even if you are in tip top shape, genes, accidents, or just plain bad luck can cause you to have an incredibly serious or chronic condition.

      I strongly believe in free will and individual responsibility. I’ve paid my entire way through my life with little to no assistance from my family once I turned 18. I paid off my college and grad debt, am saving for my children, my retirement, and may end up assisting other family members. But my “free will” and “responsibility” isn’t going to keep me from getting cancer, or a heart attack or … something else that is going to kill me. Maybe the health bill will be small — like my dad who died suddenly from a heart attack before his time. Or, maybe I will end up having a chronic condition like my aunt (who just passed a few weeks ago) who took 12 years to die from breast cancer. Should I plan on saving $0 for a sudden heart attack or hundreds of thousands to treat cancer?

      • But, what are the chances you are going to need medical care? 100% — for everybody on the planet.

        You are forgetting about timescales. Take the example of life insurance. why would life insurance make sense, even the the chances that you will die is 100% over one’s lifetime. Because it is not always 100% when considering short time scales.

        Heath insurance, like life insurance, does not depend on the probability that the client will ever have a valid claim, but only a valid claim during the policy period. People have gone without medical care for years at a time without any negative side effects. Similarly, people have lived without dying for years and even decades at a time. When you get health insurance or life insurance, you are not betting that will will eventually need medical care, or that you will eventually die; you are trying to protect yourself or your estate against needing medical care or dying during the policy period.

        • Life insurance is a completely different vehicle and can be set up as an investment if desired. Further, the cost to a family if they lose a child (for example) is the funeral expenses and that’s about it — the real cost there is emotional, right? But since that child isn’t an economic producer, the family does not have to plan for long term economic consequences due to that tragic death. But, if a parent of small children passes away, not only does that family have to handle the funeral costs, but also rippling economic effects because a breadwinner has passed away. That’s why life insurance for kids doesn’t make a ton of sense to most people. I have it — but only because the policy costs next to nothing through my employer. Otherwise, I would opt out of that particular coverage.

          Medical care can be a total crap shoot — a long term illness that strikes a child or an adult suddenly cannot be planned for but will have identical serious medical consequences out of pocket. But all children — and most people frankly — NEED to see doctors every year, but I agree that many do not because of financial circumstances or complete luck.

          But for the fact that my law school required that students have health insurance as a condition of enrollment, I would have opted out during my early twenties because I couldn’t afford it. Looking back though, I’m glad I did because I had some bizarre and costly medical events. As did my friend that needed an emergency appendectomy her third year.

  6. Kudos for pointing out that not being willing to pay for the mistakes of others does not equal lack of empathy. The two do not go hand in hand. Any argument to the contrary probably wouldn’t have worked 30 years ago. That it works these days in the minds of its adherents is due to society’s unwillingness as a whole to value reason and personal responsibility.

  7. There is another layer of deception being promoted here. The narrative has now shifted from “it will save us money” to “we must subsidize the poor”. More specifically, we are told that most of us have to subsidize the medical care of the less fortunate as they have a “right” to such services. Even getting past that, their argument is dishonest at a whole other level: That being the insinuation that we are NOT doing so already. Indeed, we have been doing so for at least the past 50 years! We are at a point now where something like 70 cents of every dollar the federal government spends is for some sort of transfer payment (SS, medicare, medicaid, etc…). Most medical care in this country was ALREADY paid for by the government.

    I’m also considering the post from a week or so ago that insinuated that young women “need” ACA to subsidize their birth control and other reproductive services. Hello? What does Planned Parenthood do? Will ACA abrogate PP somehow? It seems the central planners have decided that we need to pay for the same thing over and over.

    Note to “progressives”: This is NOT the 1890’s. This country does not have some huge swath of destitute poor, with a complete lack of support from the government, that you can swoop in on and “save” from their terrible condition. The “poor” have had nothing BUT taxpayer support for decades. Nothing in the left wing narrative “proves” the necessity of ACA, or any other new social program for that matter.

  8. “Give me a fish, and I will eat today. Teach me to fish and I will always eat.” Problem is, teaching you to fish is inherently unfair, because you are now expected to actually go out and fish. It’s much more fair if I give you a fish every day, and keep you beholden to me. It also has the side effect of keeping you loyal and under my thumb.

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