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Breaking News: People want to get things and make other people pay for them!

In November of 2009, The Boston Globe published a story about a recent poll by the Associated Press which found — wait for the shoe to drop — that Americans thought wealthy people should be taxed extra to pay for “free” public health care!

I wrote this to the Globe not so much to dispute whether or not that was a good public policy but to express exactly how little I considered this to be actual news.  “I’m shocked — shocked! — to discover that gambling is going on in this establishment…”  Of course, once I got going, I couldn’t help myself….

It was not published.

18 November 2009

I’m shocked!  Given a chance, people would prefer having someone else pay for their health care to paying for it themselves?  Go figure!  And that preference gives politicians cover to make “the rich” pay for it?  What will they think of next?

Suppose you want me to pay for your health care — or for your mortgage, or for your car, or for your iPod, or for anything else you feel you really need but can’t afford — and I don’t want to do so.  If you point a gun at me and tell me to give you the money, it would be armed robbery.  Everyone knows you don’t take what isn’t yours by force just because you want it.  That would be wrong.

So, instead, you convince your Congressman to take the money from me, as a “tax”, and to give it to you.  Why does that suddenly make it right?

What if I still don’t want to pay?  What if I refuse — what do you think is going to happen?  Federal agents will point guns at me and tell me to give them the money.  Is taking my money by force suddenly righteous, rather than outrageous, because you outsourced the job?  Is that what democracy is supposed to be about — lending moral authority to what would otherwise be morally reprehensible?

Why would the fact that I am “rich” — and presuming I actually am rich, that once such a scheme is in place it truly does differentiate between “the rich” and the merely somewhat better off — give you a claim on my bank account?  By what moral principle do you assert that what is mine is also yours?  At what point does that claim kick in?  Does your neighbor, who makes half as much again as you, owe you part of the difference on the principle that he has “more”?  Is it simply that “unequal” is ipso facto unjust?  Or must the difference be “obscene” before it justifies such a claim?  If so, how do we know how much wealth is “obscene” wealth rather than merely the more run-of-the-mill kind?

If you want me to contribute to your health care because it is beyond your means to provide it for yourself, then ask me.  Nicely.  With an air of gratitude and recognizing that it will cost me, recognizing that what you receive is not “free”, recognizing that what I give is provided as a privilege of living in a wealthy society that can afford it and not as a fundamental right of human existence.

© Copyright 2009, Augustus P. Lowell

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