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Eat Your Broccoli or Else: The Perilous Precedent of Obamacare

Tuesday, 03 April 2012 10:10 AM Current | Bio | Archive

Can the government force you to eat broccoli? That’s a power that Congress will have given itself if the Supreme Court rules that Obamacare is constitutional.

During arguments last week, Justice Antonin Scalia made the comment that under the controversial law, people would be fined for doing nothing. Such a power means that the government could force you to eat veggies, even when you don’t want to.

Previously, individuals had to first make the decision to engage in commerce. That’s the dangerous precedent being set. A criminal lawyer would call the forced act of commerce under Obamacare coercion. Alas, the law was being argued on constitutional grounds.

It’s a shame that most members of congress aren’t familiar with the broken window fallacy. When a window is broken, it first appears to be a boon to the glassmaker. But in reality, there isn’t any “value” created. Instead, the person who has to replace a window can no longer afford a new suit or a nice meal. But since that isn’t seen, it’s quickly forgotten.

By forcing people to buy healthcare, Congress can point to a lot of “fixed windows.” But it can’t point to money that would have been spent elsewhere in the economy. When people are forced to do things, no matter how small, it causes a distortion in the markets. It makes prices less accurate, because it’s now more difficult to tell the relative scarcity of goods and services.

Since the 1960s, healthcare costs have soared beyond other forms of inflation. It’s no surprise that government involvement has soared too.

Yet, proponents of Obamacare insist that it’s only time that America join every other first world country in providing some form of universal health coverage. This overlooks many cultural issues that make universal health care more economic elsewhere.

For example, end-of-life care takes up a much smaller chunk of spending in France than in the United States.

A Frenchman on his deathbed has a cavalier “c’est la vie” attitude. In the US, when our loved ones fall terminally ill, we hook them up on machines to painfully and expensively extend their final moments.

That’s why 40 percent of Medicare’s budget goes to cover the care of people in their last month of life. We still retain our American optimism that things will work out. Sadly, at some point, everyone dies. But since we only have to pay a fraction of the true costs, we opt to extend the final moments.

We all know what happens when we don’t eat our broccoli and opt for a diet of junk food. Congress shouldn’t expand its powers to force commerce on anyone. Instead, it should use word “regulate” as understood by the founding fathers: to make regular.

In short, Congress should ensure that people have the opportunity to engage in commerce (or not) as they see fit. Freedom of choice, not paternalism and commerce at gunpoint, should prevail.

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Tuesday, 03 April 2012 10:10 AM
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