Thursday, August 27, 2009

Practical Application of Principles

*For clarification, this post will be about my thought process in arriving at my opinions, not the specific examples I cite. Therefore, any attempts to argue against my opinions (as opposed to how I arrived at them) will be dealt with as wholly off-topic (deletification, baby!). If you want to argue the positions, there are a lot of other posts waiting.

The whole topic of health care reform has been a long exercise in resolving many different modes of though and completely diverging political philosophies. And because I don't necessarily see any reasonable compromise on the issue, I'm going to sojourn into my head to explain how I arrived at many of the positions I have espoused in the debate. And while I am going to talk about health care a lot, it's only in trying to illustrate how I got where I got.

The Principles and Philosophies

If I were forced to choose a political side (as in liberal or conservative), I'd be considered, on the whole, conservative. However, as I am in disagreement with many of the social issues listed as conservative, I have to find a modifier. The closest philosophy would be libertarian.

So if you had to label me, it would be as a libertarian conservative. This is because I generally align with the conservatives on most issues. Where I disagree is on libertarian principles requiring government non-involvement, even on social issues I agree on.

A perfect example here is the issue of abortion. On a moral level, I'll seek any legal way to reduce or stop the murderous practice. However, I have a conflict in the fact that an absolute anti-abortion stance requires denying a woman control over her body. This means I have to find a legal middle ground which tries to determine when the rights of the unborn child supersede the rights of the mother. There is no clear answer, and this means I'll continue to be conflicted.

So to crystallize my principles of government, here's the bullet points.
  • Individual freedom and liberty (life, liberty, property) are paramount.
  • Government, and all its fruits (taxes, laws) are at best a necessary evil.
  • The government's role is to secure individual freedom.
  • There are moral obligations that the law cannot and should not address.
  • Redistribution by the government is codified theft.
  • Tofu is not food (kidding (not really, but the list needed something funny)).
Principles Applied

When I approached the healthcare debate, my tendency was to reject anything government that was not necessary and repeat "free market" until I fall over (GOP style?). This is because of the principle stating that, "Government, and all its fruits (taxes, laws) are at best a necessary evil." And the reforms being considered are most certainly the creation of more of something I consider an evil.

In looking at the aspects of the plan currently being considered, it creates more dependence on government through the government option (and when you are financially tied to someone or something, you lose freedom), creates a redistribution of wealth (taxing some to fund the health care of others), creates conditions where the government will be both competition and regulation for the private sector (which involves the ability and tendency to remove freedom). On those items alone, the bill is one I cannot support.

Stumbling Blocks

However, as with every complex issue, there are conflicts and questions and challenges to my logic.

First up is the argument that we have a "right" to health care. Correctly stated, we have the right to pursue health care (life). However, for health care to be given, someone must give it. This involves their property/liberty. To make this a right, one would have to compel someone to do so. And no one can claim a right that requires another to give up his right (murder and theft being clear examples of such).

A counter argument, is that without access, someone loses their right to life. The only issue is that the person is not denied access. Being unable to afford something does not equate to an absolute inability to access it, rather it's a matter of trade. Practicality does not apply when arguing a principle.

Another counter is that we should be able to provide health care for everyone. I agree. However, "There are moral obligations that the law cannot and should not address." Because we should do something does not mean we must codify it as a legal obligation. The reason there must be a clear line is because when you start applying your own morality to any decision, then you force it on others. And whether it's the creation of government programs to create "equality" or banning something that's "immoral" or not "family friendly" because it's the "right" thing to do, it amounts to legislating morality.

The Practical Application and Conclusion

Now most of the things in the last section are pure principle, distinctly libertarian, even somewhat Malthusian. I admit this, because one has to be clear on principles before bending those into a reasonable compromise.

The points of the particular issue that my principles cannot reconcile include:
  • Any option that involves government becoming directly responsible (non-regulatory).
  • Restrictions on individuals to choose their health care, insurance, etc.
  • Confiscation of additional taxes to fund government-sponsored health care.
  • Elimination of the private sector (the government-run (single-payer) option).
These cannot be resolved for the simple reason that they are ones that invest power in the government at the expense of the individual, even if some benefit (but do not gain liberty) in the process

In seeking solutions to these problems, we must address cost, ease of access, regulations that limit options, the rights of individuals to offer their service without unreasonable threat (tort reform), as well as supply chain issues. And the good solutions that will come will probably involve some government intervention. How much additional entanglement depends on the willingness of all parties in this discussion to look at the individual issues and address them without going to the default positions of either screaming "free market" (like lemmings or Borg) or handing the government horndog (just not Bill Clinton) the keys to the whorehouse.

The point of discussing the prior was to lay out the process that brought me to my decision. If I veered into a little too much of the specifics, it's because it is easier to state an opinion than to explain why we have the opinion. I hope that this glance into my thought process clarifies why I am vehement on many aspects of the current debate.


Satyavati devi dasi said...

Well, at least you admit your Malthusianism.

And stop picking on tofu.


rockync said...

I come from a place of counter culture where sharing was automatic and material posessions were of little importance - and they still aren't to me. And while I understand the capitalistic credo of "I got mine so up yours!" I do not see how that attitude can be sustainable without causing negative consequences.
Here are the questions I ask myself when these life issues come up.
1) Does it improve the world I live in?
2) Will others suffer without it even if I don't?
3)Can I get up in the morning and face myself in the mirror if I do nothing?
I think most rational people understand that government is necessary for some circumstances and that being a large, bureaucratic entity, they will waste some time and money and it will piss us all off.
While we all piss and moan about medicare and social security, we all know people, probably family members who have benefitted from these government programs.
I don't have any school age children. Mine have been out of school a long time, but the government still charges me for the education of children in my community by way of taxes. If we no longer mandated education it would be no problem for me, but what about all the bright young minds that would be wasted because their parents couldn't afford to send them to school?
This country is rich in the history of acting for the greater good whether it be the abolishment of slavery, the education mandates or social security. So, in my world (even though you didn't actually ask - I'm a mouthy broad and can't help myself!) healthcare on a national level would be a natural progression.

Patrick M said...

Saty: I don't admit to being Malthusian. In making a decision, you start there. You end somewhere else, compromising without sacrificing certain principles.

And the snot block (tofu) will be a target until no one tries to use it to replace chicken.

Rocky: Actually, I have the same problems with our current government education system.

Just as you were raised in a place where sharing and community were important, I was raised with similar principles. But those beliefs come from a moral duty to resolve problems, not a legal one.

As for the sustainability of capitalism, much of the Constitution is predicated on the idea that we have a common understanding of right and wrong and a diverse but common enough faith (this is distinctly lacking in too many "EEEVIL" corporations today (and the reason they're labeled "EEEVIL"). The failure of those in power to remember their moral (not legal) obligations has led us to this point. But that's a whole different post (which I now have to come up with).

Some other points:
There is a point at which I DO see more compromises in the principles: at the local level. As you make government smaller at the federal level, many of the things that are dictated from far away move to more local governments, which are the governments we should be most in contact with.

The reason I'm as uncompromising as I am is that, despite what I believe is right and wrong, I don't want to be compelled to do something I believe is wrong, or force others to do the same. An example:

I could believe that one must accept Jesus to be saved. And if I know that it is my duty to bring people to that truth, then I must do what I can. By your rationale, I would need to seek laws to do so. This would compel non-believers along the "right" path.

Now we know it doesn't work that way. And if you want something more practical, apply the morality of many on the Right to abortion. It's the same moral imperative.

Unfortunately, many of our traditions (education, caring for the elderly, sharing, ) have been morphed into legislation that has been well-meaning and beneficial to many (myself included), but ultimately legislates a moral standard.

TRUTH 101 said...

I think we're closer on issues and philosophy than you know Patrick. While I have no problem saying I believe government plays an important role in helping improve lives, you appreciate all it does, but try not to admit it.

Education and distribution of tax dollars is a good example of what I'm talking about. If the federal government didn't fund almost half of local schools, or more, the wealthier districts would have far better education systems than they do now. The gap between rich and oor districts would be ridiculously large. I believe you would admit that this "redistribution" benefits America as a whole by keeping the education gap narrow.

I suffer no envy of the wealthy. By virtue of their success they enjoy many more perks of the good life than I do. Better golf courses. Nicer cars. More than one house. But I don't believe by virtue of wealth, no matter how hard earned it was, makes one more entitled to decent health care. I value the poor child with leukemia just as much as the rich one.

I have always noticed the inner conflict you have with your "closet liberal" Patrick. There is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, I always found you to be a caring, insightful man.

Government is a great tool that can make all our lives better. A better educated and fully, gainfully employed America benefits the wealthiest who I admit bear the biggest burden of the tax bill. They also benefit the most so I think they're getting their money's worth.

dmarks said...

Rocky said: "1) Does it improve the world I live in?
2) Will others suffer without it even if I don't?
3)Can I get up in the morning and face myself in the mirror if I do nothing?"

The people are quite often better at deciding this than the government. Often, not always.

And "I got mine so up yours!" is the credo of socialism, except the rulers hide that under the cover of a "we are getting rich from robbing you and we take your rights. But we say it is from your own good."

rockync said...

dmarks wrote: "And "I got mine so up yours!" is the credo of socialism, except the rulers hide that under the cover of a "we are getting rich from robbing you and we take your rights. But we say it is from your own good.""
I think you are confusing socialism with communism...

dmarks said...

No, even though communism is a subset of socialism, and socialism is the path to such despotism.

The rulers enriching themselves while saying they are doing it to help everyone is a main hallmark of socialism, period. Not just the communist extreme.

TRUTH 101 said...

Kennedy was rich before he went into the Senate. Joe Biden was in the Senate for years and he's not rich. Neither is Chris Dodd. Which ones got rich from their senate careers Dmarks?

dmarks said...

Whichever one of those who was crass enough to draw a congressional salary. Millionaires taking more millions from the treasury.

Every once in a while, I hear of millionaires elected to office who are decent enough to refuse the money that would be wasted on them in the form of a federal salary. Once I read that Ted Kennedy was one of these. However, I was unable to verify it elsewhere.

Satyavati devi dasi said...

Crass enough to draw a salary?

Do you work for free?

Why should anyone else? This is America, land of capitalism, where we make money off other people, right?

dmarks said...

SDD: Multi-millionaires who claim to be in Congress for "public service" should act like it, instead of acting like Congress is just another way to pad their already vast portfolio.

I did indeed find confirmation that Senator Kennedy never took his Senate salary. Whether or not we agree with his views and goals, it is rather clear from this that he was in the Senate for what he could do for his country, rather than what his country could do for him.

As opposed to other millionaire Senators who are there to get even richer. I don't begrudge Senators who are not millionaires taking that salary, nor do I begrudge them getting rich in the private sector. But the purpose of high public office should be public service, not a path for someone to see how much they can loot the treasury for.

Patrick M said...

101: It's a balancing act. But in an ideal society, I'd kill the government school system. Fixing that mess would be best done at the local level, with maybe some state assistance where necessary. And the federal government is relegated to perhaps collecting a few statistics or providing some clearinghouse information to kind of standardize things. Our current system, however is possibly the worst way to teach. Because I learned more out of school than I did in it.

And of course we're possibly closer than you think. As long as you can look at what I wrote above and agree with most of it. In other words, we do want the same things (most of us do), we just irreconcilably disagree how that would be done.

Government is a great tool that can make all our lives better.

And this is the point on where I disagree most.

Dmarks: I don't begrudge any Senator drawing his alotted salary, no matter his income.

One of the arguments that the Founding Fathers had was over the salaries of elected officials. The wealthiest (the Virgininas, of course) suggested that people serve for nothing, as it was a matter of service and not a "job." However, others (including the not wealthy second President John Adams) argued the opposite because this would create an elected aristocracy, limited to only those who could afford to "serve."

That Kennedy did not draw his salary does bump my respect for him a notch (it really couldn't go down). Although I am curious what happened to the allotted cash.

TRUTH 101 said...

We do agree Patrick. You just haven't reconciled it with your Psyche yet. Your inner child says you hate government. You don't want it in our schools. Yet you have better ideas (Maybe. I don't know what they are and the White Sox game is on so I'm paying closer attention to that right now.) The way to implement your ideas is through change affected by government. Government is not the enemy my friend. Uninspired, unimaginative, lazy stupid government is.

dmarks said...

Truth is onto something, when we realize that the more powerful government is, the more likely it is to be lazy, stupid, etc.

Small government that knows its boundaries, and serves the people, is not the enemy.

Large government that sees no boundaries (such as socialism) and sees the people as servants is the enemy.

Patrick M said...

101: Our government IS "Uninspired, unimaginative, lazy stupid...."

Therein lies the problem. As Dmarks points out, size allows the government to not fear the people.