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!


2 Responses to “Krugman and Social Choice”

  1. Robert Brown Says:

    Well thought out. The left seems to like a society that they can control.

  2. Social Choice Part II « Tristan's Journal for a Free Society Says:

    […] 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 […]

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