Social Choice Part II

There is something else I want to append to the ideas described in my previous post. I’d like to expand a little bit on the process society goes through in choosing whether the man lives or dies.

The reason Krugman was reframing the binary choice in such an unrepresentative way is because he believes people are incapable of organizing unless forced to through the violent power of the law. So, he feels that in the libertarian framework, the choice would most likely be that the man dies, whereas having a law would make it so the man would most likely live. However, in thinking about the issue in this way, Krugman is completely ignoring the process it takes to actually create a functional law with the desired result.

Sure, the process of voluntary organization to solve this particular societal problem in a liberty-based system requires the efforts of thousands of people who have no mandatory obligation to actually do their part to organize a solution. It requires the support of millions of people to give such a solution the wings it needs to get off the ground. Sounds difficult, right? And yet passage of a law has nearly identical requirements!

So if Krugman wants to examine the difficulties associated with Society voluntarily and freely developing a solution, then fine, but let’s take the honest approach and compare that to the political battles and sausage-making that it takes to generate a solution through government. If instead he wants to focus on the finished product, then fine, let’s compare the efficiency, sustainability, and effectiveness of the finished products that would come out of the two systems. I’m confident that libertarians can win on both the “generation of solutions” front and the “quality of solutions” front when fought separately.

But to take the finished product of one system and compare it to the struggle to get there of the other system is just plain dishonest. And it’s that aspect of his arguments which leads me to so vehemently despise Paul Krugman.

Krugman and Social Choice

Paul Krugman is at it again (emphasis mine):

CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked Representative Ron Paul what we should do if a 30-year-old man who chose not to purchase health insurance suddenly found himself in need of six months of intensive care. Mr. Paul replied, “That’s what freedom is all about — taking your own risks.” Mr. Blitzer pressed him again, asking whether “society should just let him die.”

And the crowd erupted with cheers and shouts of “Yeah!”

The incident highlighted something that I don’t think most political commentators have fully absorbed: at this point, American politics is fundamentally about different moral visions.

Now, there are two things you should know about the Blitzer-Paul exchange. The first is that after the crowd weighed in, Mr. Paul basically tried to evade the question, asserting that warm-hearted doctors and charitable individuals would always make sure that people received the care they needed — or at least they would if they hadn’t been corrupted by the welfare state. Sorry, but that’s a fantasy. People who can’t afford essential medical care often fail to get it, and always have — and sometimes they die as a result.

The second is that very few of those who die from lack of medical care look like Mr. Blitzer’s hypothetical individual who could and should have bought insurance. In reality, most uninsured Americans either have low incomes and cannot afford insurance, or are rejected by insurers because they have chronic conditions.

So would people on the right be willing to let those who are uninsured through no fault of their own die from lack of care? The answer, based on recent history, is a resounding “Yeah!”

Think, in particular, of the children.

So Mr. Krugman is right about one thing: At this point, American politics is fundamentally about different moral visions. However, the question of which visions is where Krugman is being deliberately misleading. Krugman frames the issue as a binary choice between two moral visions:

Option 1: Society saves the man.

Option 2: Society lets the man die.

But that doesn’t at all represent the moral question here. Libertarians do not want “Society” to just let the man die. Krugman’s mistake (which he repeats frequently, unashamedly, and deliberately, refusing to be corrected) is his tendency to equate government with “Society.” A more honest representation of the choice would be something like this:

Option 1: Government is responsible for determining whether the man lives or dies.

Option 2: Free individuals are responsible for determining whether the man lives or dies, and may voluntarily choose according to what they believe is right and fair.

Whether “Society” is comprised of government or an association of free individuals does not determine whether or not the man lives or dies. Rather, the choices that people make within each of those moral frameworks makes that determination. So who do you want to be making those sorts of determinations? Free, voluntarily associated individuals? Or the entity that gives us so many wonderful engines of bureaucratic incompetence like the DMV?

Think, in particular, of the children!