Arbitrary Government And Health Care

President Barack Obama delivers a speech on healthcare to a joint session of Congress, Wednesday, Sept., 9, 2009, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are behind the president. CBS/AP

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Many years ago, as a small child, I was told one of those old-fashioned fables for children. It was about a dog with a bone in his mouth, who was walking on a log across a stream.

The dog looked down into the water and saw his reflection. He thought it was another dog with a bone in his mouth - and it seemed to him that the other dog's bone was bigger than his. He decided that he was going to take the other dog's bone away and opened his mouth to attack. The result was that his own bone fell into the water and was lost.

At the time, I didn't like that story and wished they hadn't told it to me. But the passing years and decades have made me realize how important that story was, because it wasn't really about dogs.

Today, the president of the United States is telling us that he is going to help us take that other dog's bone away - and the end result is likely to be very much like what it was in that children's fable.

Whether we are supposed to take that bone away from the doctors, the hospitals, the pharmaceutical companies, or the insurance companies, the net result is likely to be the same - most of us will end up with worse medical care than we have available today. We will have opened our mouth and dropped a very big bone into the water.

While I was told a story in my childhood to help me understand something about the real world, today adults are being told things to reduce them to childish thinking.

The most childish of all the things being said in the august setting of a joint session of Congress last week was that millions of people can be added to the government's health-insurance plan without increasing the federal deficit at all.

If the president of the United States could do that, it is hard to imagine what he would do as an encore. Walking on water would be an anticlimax.

What is equally childish is the notion that the great majority of Americans who have medical insurance, and who say they are satisfied with it, should be panicked and stampeded into supporting vast increases in the arbitrary power of Washington bureaucrats to take medical decisions out of the hands of doctors - ostensibly because a minority of Americans do not have medical insurance.

There was a time, within living memory, when most Americans did not have health insurance - and it was not the end of the world, as so many in politics and the media seem to depict it today.

As someone who lived through that era, and who spent decades without medical insurance, I find it hard to be panicked and stampeded into bigger and worse problems because some people do not have medical insurance, including many who could afford it if they chose to.

What did we do, back during the years when most Americans had no medical insurance? I did what most people did. I depended on a "single payer" - myself. When I didn't have the money, I paid off my medical bills in installments.

The birth of my first child was not covered by medical insurance. I paid off the bill, month by month, until the time finally came when I could tell my wife that the baby was now ours, free and clear.

In a country where everything imaginable is bought and paid for on credit, why is it suddenly a national crisis if some people cannot pay cash up front for medical treatment?

That is not the best way to do things for all people and all medical treatments, which is why most Americans today choose to have medical insurance. But millions of other people choose not to - often young and healthy people, sometimes deadbeats who use emergency rooms and don't pay at all.

Is this ideal? No. But if every deviation from the ideal is a reason to be panicked and stampeded into putting dangerous arbitrary powers into the hands of government, then go directly to totalitarianism, do not pass "Go," do not collect $200.

And go ahead and drop your bone in the water, in hopes that you can get somebody else's bigger bone.

By Thomas Sowell
Reprinted with permission from National Review Online
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