Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of libertarians and conservatives have played an extensive game of Whack-a-Mole. That’s the Japanese game in which plastic moles pop up at random on a board and a person whacks each mole as it appears. In Healthcare Whack-a-Mole, governmental assaults on liberty have continuously popped up during the course of the pandemic. As each one has popped up, some libertarians and conservatives have expended a large amount of time and effort whacking each assault as it has popped up.
Mandatory mask mandates? Bam! Whack it! “Government has no legitimate authority to tell me whether I have to wear a mask! Anyway, masks don’t do any good. They can actually be quite harmful. I’ll decide whether to wear a mask.”
Mandatory closure of businesses? Bam! Whack it! “Government can’t tell businesses whether to shut down or not, at least not in what purports to be a free society. Private businesses have the right to operate freely without governmental restraint.”
Mandatory masks in private businesses? Bam! Whack it! “Government has no business telling private firms how to operate their businesses.”
Vaccine passports? Bam! Whack it! “Why should anyone be required to get a vaccine passport? If people don’t want to get vaccinated, that’s their business.”
The thing to keep in mind in all this is that Healthcare Whack-a-Mole is endless. Public officials will always figure out new and different ways to assault liberty in the name of keeping people “safe.” There will always be new liberty infringement moles popping up for libertarians and conservatives to whack.
There is also an endless stream of things for libertarian and conservative critics to complain about with respect to how the government is managing the pandemic. For example, at the start of the pandemic there was an insufficient number of face masks. In fact, public officials were issuing conflicting messages on whether or not masks helped to prevent the spread of the virus. There was a severe shortage of hand sanitizer. There were various travel restrictions but no consistency to the regulations. When public officials took control over the distribution of vaccines, the resulting mess provided libertarians and conservatives something else to criticize.
None of this is to suggest that it isn’t important to whack these healthcare moles whenever they appear. It’s good that people devote their time and energy doing so.
That said, whacking these health-care moles is not freedom. If we are to achieve liberty, we must never let these types of crises — and the Whack-a-Mole game that comes with them — distract us from our ultimate goal, which is a genuinely free society.
That necessarily means that we have to keep our visions high, especially in the midst of crises, when it is so easy to forget what we are fighting for. If we don’t raise our visions high, we will end up playing Healthcare Whack-a-Mole forever and never achieve freedom.
Separate healthcare from the state
What does that higher vision entail with respect to Healthcare Whack-a-Mole? It entails ending all government involvement in health care — a complete separation of healthcare and the state, just as our ancestors separated church and state. Once government is removed from healthcare entirely, there won’t be any more healthcare moles to whack.
That means no more U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, no more Centers for Disease Control, no more FDA, no more DEA, no more National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, or any other federal agency that concerns itself with healthcare. It also means no more federal regulations, federal supervision, or federal monitoring of healthcare matters. An absolute end of all governmental involvement in healthcare.
That also necessarily means a re- peal of two of America’s most popular socialist programs — Medicare and Medicaid. That would actually be a good thing, not only with respect to liberty but also with respect to healthcare. Before the enactment of these two programs, America had the finest healthcare system in history, one in which the quality of healthcare was soaring and in which healthcare costs were low and stable. Hardly anyone had major medical insurance because people didn’t need it. Physicians loved what they did in life. They and hospitals were handling the healthcare needs of the poor on a purely voluntary basis.
And then came Medicare and Medicaid, which destroyed that finest healthcare system in history. Healthcare costs began soaring. People now needed to buy health insurance. Today, those who cannot afford the ever-increasing cost of medical insurance are being bankrupted by ever-rising healthcare costs.
The ideal would be a constitutional amendment that separates healthcare and the state at both the federal and the state level. It could read as follows: “No law shall be enacted, either at the national or state level, respecting the regulation or providing of healthcare or abridging the free exercise thereof.”
The COVID-19 pandemic was a healthcare crisis. It should never have been a political crisis. If there had been a separation of healthcare and the state, no one would have looked to public officials to address it. Instead, everyone would have looked to the healthcare industry for leadership and guidance to confront this natural disaster. The healthcare industry would have issued guidelines for dealing with the crisis — masks, treatments, hand sanitizer, travel, business operations, and medicines — and everyone would have made his own decision accordingly.
The entire matter would have been depoliticized. Moreover, the free market would have quickly ensured a plentiful supply of masks, hand sanitizer, ventilators, vaccines, treatments, and other such things. Vaccine distribution would have been much quicker and efficient.
The problem, of course, is that we have all been born and raised under a system in which government is tasked with the job of providing, controlling, supervising, regulating, and monitoring healthcare. That makes it difficult for people to think at a higher level, one that entails the separation of healthcare and state. It also makes it easier for people to keep the system intact, no matter how bad things get, and simply continue to play Healthcare Whack-a-Mole.
A hypothetical worth pondering
Let’s assume that the Constitution authorized the federal government to provide, control, and regulate religion and that the
First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendments had never been enacted.
We can safely assume that today religion would be an absolute mess and that there would be countless religion moles for people to whack. There would be, of course, a U.S. Department of Religion, which would set standards and guidelines for churches to follow. There would also be millions of dollars doled out to churches in the form of religion grants, especially during election years.
At the state and local level, mandatory-attendance laws would require everyone to send his children to church every Sunday. There would be a combination of public churches and private churches. There would be a voucher program to help poorer children attend private church. Bibles would have to be approved by the state. Each church district would vote on whether to use Protestant or Catholic Bibles — or perhaps, depending on the electorate in each district, the Koran or the Book of Mormon.
Everything would be politicized. Fights would break out over dress codes for church, homework assignments, the required time in church, the sermons, and how the church revenues were being spent.
Kids would end up hating to go to church. Some of them would end up hating God.
What would be the solution to this religion mess? Undoubtedly, there would be some libertarians and conservatives who would devote their time and efforts to whacking each religion mole as it popped up.
That might help to alleviate the mess, but it wouldn’t be freedom. Freedom necessarily would involve separating religion and the state, as the First and Fourteenth Amendments do.
A higher vision for healthcare
Some people might claim that the separation of healthcare and the state are impossible to achieve and that we should just resign ourselves to spending our lives playing healthcare Whack-a-Mole.
But why isn’t healthcare freedom achievable? If our ancestors could achieve the separation of church and state, why can’t we build on what they accomplished by separating healthcare and the state? Of course, it’s a difficult challenge. Government management and control of healthcare has long been a deeply ingrained part of our lives. But difficult doesn’t mean impossible.
What we need is a critical mass of people who decide that enough is enough — people who are sick and tired of the perpetual crisis in healthcare and who recognize that freedom necessarily entails the separation of healthcare and the state. Once that critical mass of people is reached, a paradigm shift will take place toward healthcare freedom.
It goes without saying that this is what we need to do to achieve freedom in other parts of our lives. Rather than engage in endless debates on how to reform and fix the public school system, freedom necessitates a separation of school and state, just as our ancestors separated church and state. The same applies to economic activity — a genuine free-enterprise or free-market economic system, which is essential to freedom, requires a separation of economy and state — i.e., the end of governmental involvement in economic activity.
To reach a critical mass of people who understand freedom and want it, it is necessary for libertarians to lift people’s vision to a higher level — to the level of what freedom necessarily entails. Usually people have to hear an idea first and begin considering it before they come to accept it. That’s why it’s imperative for libertarians to not just play Whack-a-Mole but, more important, to constantly raise people’s vision to a higher level — to the level of what genuine liberty actually is.
This article was originally published in the July 2021 edition of Future of Freedom.