Imagine that the United States had had a system of public churching for 230 years, a system in which the federal government owned and operated public churches alongside private churches. This state-run system of public churches would be run by government employees, including ministers, and be financed through taxation. Prayers and prayer books would be devised by the federal Department of Religion. A compulsory church-attendance law would mandate that all children in the nation be taken to either a private or public church for services every Sunday.
Imagine also an ongoing, longterm crisis in religion. Political conflicts over who would be employed as ministers, what prayers and prayer books would be used, what people should wear to church, and what time church services should be held. The services are highly regimented, with children bored or, even worse, detesting God. When people ask what can be done to resolve the religion crisis, the most popular response is: Tax and spend more money to fix the system, including paying higher salaries to church personnel in order to attract better people into the public church system.
One day, a libertarian shows up at a public church meeting and says: “I’ve got an idea on how to resolve the public-church crisis. Let’s just separate church and state. No more governmental involvement in religion at any level of government — federal, state, or local. No more public church buildings. No more church taxes. No more compulsory-attendance laws. A total separation of church and state.
You can imagine people’s reaction: “Are you crazy? Why, if people weren’t forced to send their children to church, the entire nation would end up being immoral. Before long, everyone would be hating God, maybe even worshipping Satan. And where would the poor go to church? Only the rich would have churches to attend. You’ll never convince people to go along with such a radical, extreme idea. You might as well give it up and just help us come up with ways to reform our public-church system. We’ve definitely got some problems here but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
Isn’t that the response of many people today to the libertarian idea of separating healthcare and the state? The thought of getting rid of the FDA, the Center for Disease Control, federal planning, management, and regulation of health care, medical licensure, and Medicare and Medicaid scares some people to death.
Oh sure, the healthcare system is an absolute mess. It has been for decades, long before the Coronavirus crisis. Skyrocketing healthcare costs that have placed countless Americans into deep debt, even bankruptcy. Doctors hating what they do in life and constrained with respect to how much money they can make. Fraud in Medicare, and criminal prosecution of doctors. Mandatory charity disguised as “compassion.” A shortage of healthcare providers. And reform after reform after reform, with people now calling for a full government takeover of medicine, just like in Cuba and North Korea.
The coronavirus crisis has only highlighted the massive dysfunctional nature of America’s government-provided, government-planned, and government-controlled healthcare system. Shortages of essential supplies and equipment, such as masks, ventilators, and testing kits. Governmental restrictions and prohibitions imposed on healthcare providers. And, of course, ever-increasing tyranny and oppression to keep people “safe.”
And what do the proponents of this system say is a solution to all this planned chaos? They say that we need even more government planning and control of healthcare. They’re even saying that we should treat the crisis like we are waging war. Surely, you’re familiar with the life-nurturing success of the military in faraway places like Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia.
Fear of freedom
And what happens when a libertarian or a libertarian educational foundation like The Future of Freedom Foundation says what we have been saying for some 30 years: “How about if we just separate healthcare and the state? No more governmental involvement in healthcare at all. A total free market in healthcare.”
“Oh my gosh, Jacob! You are so radical! Oh sure, we have some problems with healthcare but let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. If we got government out of healthcare, there would be people dying in the streets. Healthcare is just too important to be left to the free market.”
Why are people so scared of freedom and free markets when it comes to healthcare but not religion? One big reason is that they were born and raised under a system of religious liberty. They see how it works. If they had been born and raised under a public-churching system, they would have the same reaction to the idea of religious liberty that they do to healthcare liberty. Since they have been born and raised under a system of government-provided, government-managed, government-planned, and government-controlled healthcare, the idea of healthcare freedom is frightening to them.
Nonetheless, as difficult as our task is, we libertarians must continue advocating healthcare liberty and a totally free market healthcare system. We must not settle for coming up with proposals that simply reform this deadly and destructive system. Our lives and everyone else’s depend on it.