“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.”
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: