Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Health Care: A Right or A Privilege?

"I think health care is a privilege. I wouldn't call it a right." So says Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) in a recent interview.

This comment is disturbing some liberal commentators. See here and here.

And, yes, the questions raised are essential.

But liberals should pause and realize that the abundant economic wealth that surrounds them makes much more practicable the very idea of "health care as a right." The individualism/individual responsibility that DeMint advocates is an essential element in the growth of wealth that we have witnessed over the past several hundred years. Wealth matters. Individual responsibility matters.

Conservatives should equally consider how mores can evolve, and redound to society's benefit, with new economic and social circumstances. Protections help to make society more stable and help to make less privileged members more productive. Rights matter. Both socially and economically.

One lens for considering the balance between economic growth and civil rights is the historical one:

Namely, rights and protections extended in economically advantageous fashion at one point in economic development might have undermined general economic growth at an earlier time. Had Roman slaves been protected from forced dislocation, as were feudal serfs, the Roman Empire might have been economically undermined in dramatic fashion. Had feudal serfs been extended universal K-12 education as is the common citizen of our time, agricultural output of the period would likely have declined precipitously. By the same token, a commitment to the universal health in our own times may be compatible with strong (more on this adjective later) economic growth even though the costs of such a commitment would have been overwhelming in an earlier time.


Jeff DeGrasse said...

As an independent here is where I stand. First, I'd argue that health insurance reform is in everyone best interests. Anyone who has had their insurance provider declare that a certain medical procedure will not be covered (corporate health care rationing) should be pro-reform.

As for health care reform, it would be easy for me to say "Hey, I'm a government employee, I have my FEHB with a choice of about 6 different insurance programs that I can change every year if I am not satisfied with my current program. Why should I care about health care reform?"

The truth is that when the uninsured seek treatment in ER's around the country, taxpayers end up paying the bill. So why not put that money to good use and give everyone insurance? We would need sound policy, but the debate is not nearly mature enough to talk policy.