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The ‘Forgotten Man’

Mark Poyar | Wednesday, March 7, 2007

In the early 1990s, the Clintons tried to socialize the United States health care system, a scheme ominously known as “Hillarycare.” This plan would have put one-seventh of the U.S. economy directly under the control of the federal government. It would have required every business in America to provide health care to its employees, costing thousands of jobs. The plan would have forced those who were perfectly happy with their current private care to opt out for the one-size-fits-all government program. The program would have established price controls on premiums, which would have inevitably led to rationing and a long waits just as in every other country with socialized medicine. Thankfully, the American public wanted no part of this. Largely due to the Hillarycare debacle, voters wisely “threw the rascals out,” giving Republicans control of the House for the first time in 40 years.

Unfortunately, it seems that the American public is increasingly supportive of such a plan. Drudgereport.com, an Internet news site that often picks up stories that the major news networks simply ignore, linked a new study last Saturday showing that almost two-thirds of Americans agree that the government should provide health care for all. Ironically, the same study also showed that only one-third believed that the government could do a better job than private insurance companies at actually providing medical coverage.

Public opinion seems to largely coincide with those of politicians. All major Democratic presidential contenders, including Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards, favor a vast expansion of federal funding for health care programs, if not outright socialized medicine. Even George W. Bush got in on the action late in his first term by passing his Prescription Drug Bill, originally supposed to cost $400 billion over ten years, but now estimated at $1.2 trillion. P.J. O’Rourke’s quip that “if you think health care is expensive now, wait until you see what it costs when it’s free” clearly applies.

Nearly all welfare programs follow the same progression in coming into existence. The supporters of such plans often expresses a desire to “help” some less fortunate group, whether that group is the old, the young or the poor. Next, they turn to the voting population and appeal to their sympathy and other heartfelt sentiments. Finally, the politicians use this political capital to create or expand a program that consists of a forceful transfer of money from one group to the politically favored interest group. Supporters often claim that without federal funding for medical care, these groups would be unable to get the access to medical care that they truly need. Thus, many commentators often praise the initiators and supporters of such legislation as humanitarians and compassionate philanthropists who are doing their best to help people. But is this accurate?

William Sumner once wrote that “the type and formula of most schemes of philanthropy or humanitarianism is this: A and B put their heads together to decide what C shall be made to do for D. The radical vice of all these schemes … is that C is not allowed a voice in the matter, and his position, character and interests, as well as the ultimate effects on society through C’s interests, are entirely overlooked. I call C the “Forgotten Man.”

The idea that those in support of government funding of health care (or any other welfare program) are doing something compassionate and humanitarian is absurd. By only focusing on the benefits that D will receive as the supporters of government subsidized health care programs do, they completely ignore what they are doing to C. The most basic fact of government is thus forgotten or willfully ignored – namely, as Sumner says, that the government “cannot get a cent for any man without (first) taking it from some other man, and this latter must be a man who has produced and saved it.” The government will forcefully take C’s money from him whether he likes it or not to pay for D’s medical care. The government is, as the old saying goes, “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” It is making C into a slave for D. Those would enable such a scheme are not compassionate friends of humanity, but its enemies. The true test of compassion and philanthropy does not lie in spending someone else’s money, but rather in what a person does with his own money and what action he takes to help others.

Someone once said that democracy is two wolves and a sheep taking a majority vote on what’s for supper, while in a constitutional republic the wolves are forbidden on voting on what’s for supper. James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, once wrote in response to proposed aid for French refugees fleeing from insurrection in San Domingo to the U.S. that “I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.” If our politicians and judges actually took his words and the Constitution seriously, America would once again become a constitutional republic as intended by the Founders, the America of the Forgotten Man. Return charity to the private sector where it belongs.

Mark Poyar is a junior finance major and vice president of the College Libertarians. Their website is http://ndlibertarians.blogspot.com. He is currently studying abroad in England and can be contacted at mpoyar@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.