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The Real Free-Market Approach to Health Care, Part 2


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For over one hundred years, the American people said no to governmental intervention into health care. Americans did not permit their respective states to license physicians and other health-care providers. They did not permit government to provide health care to the poor and needy. No one was required to purchase health insurance. The result of this unusual way of life was the most advanced medical system in history .

The real question is, “Why?” Why did five or six generations of Americans say no to such governmental schemes and controls as licensing, Medicare, Medicaid, and compulsory health insurance?

President Clinton and his wife Hillary would have us believe that the reason is that Americans simply had not yet invented or discovered these devices. The Clintons’ claim that governmental control over people’s health, and political redistribution of their wealth, are brand-new, 21st-century concepts whose time has come. And, unfortunately, most Americans, having received their “education” in public schools, don’t know any better.

The Declaration of Independence

The reason for the American rejection of socialized medicine for over one hundred years lies in the principles of the Declaration of Independence. Our ancestors had a radically different understanding of the words in that document than their counterparts living today.

What did the words “. . . .they [men] are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. . . .” mean to our ancestors? They meant that you, as an individual, have the right to live your life the way you choose, so long as you do not interfere, in some direct way, with the rights of others to do the same. You have a right to sustain your life by producing goods and services through the exercise of talents and abilities that God gave you — and then trading these with others who are doing the same. You have a right to accumulate unlimited amounts of wealth (i.e., property) through this process. And you have a right to choose what to do with your own money.

And while the political process was certainly abused (i.e., slavery, tariffs, railroad grants), the prevailing philosophy of our American ancestors was that it was the height of evil and immorality to use the political process to steal one person’s money in order to give it to someone else. This is the reason — not ignorance, but rather morality — that Americans rejected such schemes as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Unlike their modern-day American counterparts, they believed in and practiced God’s commandment, “Thou shalt not steal.”

Here is an example of how radically different our ancestors’ beliefs were compared to those of Americans living today. In the 1880s, Texas farmers suffered a long, devastating drought. Congress passed a relief bill that appropriated $10,000 to the farmers. The philosophy of our American ancestors was expressed by President Grover Cleveland — a Democrat! — in his veto message:

I find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and the duty of the General Government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit. A prevailing tendency to disregard the limited mission of this power and duty should, I think, be steadfastly resisted, to the end that the lesson should be constantly enforced that though the people support the Government the Government should not support the people.

The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow-citizens in misfortune. This has been repeatedly and quite lately demonstrated. Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the Government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character, while it prevents the indulgence among our people of that kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood.

Thus, Americans believed that charity towards others meant nothing unless it came from the willing heart of the giver. They understood that “coerced charity” was simply disguised thievery. And while they would fight to protect the right of a person to say no to his neighbor, they had faith that most people would voluntarily help those in need.

“Freedom” according to the Clintons

How dramatically different things are today. President and Mrs. Clinton tell us that Americans must be forced to provide for everyone’s health care. Private citizens are not able to take care of themselves. And they certainly cannot be trusted to help others voluntarily. People should be “free,” the Clintons tell us, as long as they do what they are told by their political masters. And worst of all, the Clintons denigrate the memory of people like Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Patrick Henry by falsely claiming that the Declaration of Independence entails “a right to health care,” that is, a right to steal the fruits of someone else’s earnings through the use of the political process.

Whenever the Clintons extol the virtues of socialized medicine, they point to the European model. “France, Germany, and Great Britain all have compulsory health care,” we are told, “and so how can a major industrial power like the United States be without it?”

What the Clintons need to be reminded of, however, is that two hundred years ago, our ancestors fought a war in which they killed thousands of British soldiers — and that the reason for these deaths was our ancestors’ full and complete rejection of the European model of omnipotent government that now holds the Clintons and their statist supporters in its grip.

The truth is that President and Mrs. Clinton and their statist friends hate everything that the American revolutionaries and their 19th-century successors believed in. The idea that an individual should be free to manage his own life is anathema to the present-day American public official. Like his European counterpart, he believes that private citizens exist only to serve the public good — and to obey the commands of public officials.

The Clintons and their cohorts have one, and only one, objective in mind — to maintain the 20th-century, statist empire over which they preside. But they know that, in the final analysis, they need the support of their subjects to continue and expand their control. For this, they rely heavily on the ignorance of those who received their “education” in social-studies classes in public schools. And, unfortunately, public-school teachers have done their job well. For Americans honestly believe the claims of the Clintons and their statist friends that the so-called “health-care crisis” reflects the failure of America’s “free-enterprise system.”

Free enterprise . . .or socialism?

Free-enterprise system? How can licensing of physicians and other health-care providers be “free enterprise”? Free enterprise means to engage in enterprise freely. If a person must receive the permission of the political authorities to engage in an enterprise, then the enterprise is not free. The reason that 19th-century Americans had no licensing was not because they were ignorant but because they knew that people had the God-given right to engage in any economic enterprise without seeking the permission of their public officials.

Licensing of physicians came into existence in the U.S. at the beginning of the 20th century. It is a device to limit the supply of doctors, to protect them from competition, and to increase their income levels. It is a throwback to the old European guild system that Americans in 1776 found so revolting.

Free enterprise? How can Medicare and Medicaid, established in the 1960s, be free enterprise? Here, the political process is used to steal money from some individuals in order to give the loot to others. It is a throwback to the old European, socialist notion of “from each according to ability, to each according to need.”

Free enterprise? How can the taxing of incomes be free enterprise? Either people have the right to accumulate unlimited amounts of wealth by serving others, or the political authorities decide how much a person will be permitted to accumulate. The progressive taxation of incomes is a throwback to the old, European, socialist notion of public ownership of the results of production.

The truth is that it is not “free enterprise” that has failed the American people. Rather, it is the European, socialist experiment with which the Clintons and their friends are so enamored that has failed the American people. After several decades of the welfare state and the managed economy, the chickens are coming home to roost. The old, decrepit, bankrupt European ideas of governmental licensing and medical care for the poor and aged have failed, not only here, but in Cuba, Russia, France, Great Britain, and everywhere else they have been tried.

And the results are clear for all to see. The American revolutionaries and their 19th-century successors have been proven right. And their 20th-century counterparts have been proven wrong — and now they are panic-stricken at the thought of their empire — and its omnipotent power over the lives of the American people — coming crashing down.

The struggle is not new — it has been going on for centuries. On the one side are aligned the supporters of empire — of control — of plunder. Aligned on the other side are the small minority of those who cherish individual freedom. As the empire continues to crumble, the question is, will the solution be more control, or will it be a dismantling of America’s 20th-century experiment with socialism?

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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    Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.