Clapham Omnibus

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this op-ed in the Wall Street Journal is the worst thing I've read in a while on health care.  Cataloging its sheer dumbness would be a labor of many days, so I'll just pick one representative argument (commenters are free to provide their own, or, as the case may be, defend the brilliance of the author's insight).  But first some context.  The point  is that there is no right to health care.  It supports these with a series of independent arguments.  Here is one of them:

When the supposed right to health care is widely recognized, as in the United Kingdom, it tends to reduce moral imagination. Whenever I deny the existence of a right to health care to a Briton who asserts it, he replies, “So you think it is all right for people to be left to die in the street?”

When I then ask my interlocutor whether he can think of any reason why people should not be left to die in the street, other than that they have a right to health care, he is generally reduced to silence. He cannot think of one.

I can think of a lot of things wrong with this argument.  In the first place, perhaps Dalrymple (that's the author's name) ought to ask different people from the men on the Clapham omnibus.  Secondly, it's weird that the people he asks always give the same answer and are stumped by the same objection.  Third, Dalrymple's question is adequately answered by the person, who takes it as self-evident that no one should be left to die in the street when someone can do something about it. 

Rights, for the average guy on the Clapham omnibus, are like that.  Ask the average American on the 151 Sheridan whether she has the right to private property, and she will say "yes."  Ask her why it shouldn't be the case that no one should take away her goods for no reason at all and she will stare at you and repeat that she has a right to private property.

The recognition of baseline inalienable rights (so we can say for the sake of argument) does not mean one lacks moral imagination.  If that were the case, the existence of moral imagination would nullify the existence of inalienable rights, since, after all, they lack imagination.

*Thanks to a long time reader and friend of for this tip.

8 thoughts on “Clapham Omnibus”

  1. Dalrymple argues:

    “People sometimes argue in favor of a universal human right to health care by saying that health care is different from all other human goods or products. It is supposedly an important precondition of life itself. This is wrong: There are several other, much more important preconditions of human existence, such as food, shelter and clothing.”

    Some might argue that food, shelter and clothing are important preconditions of health. In fact, the United States agrees that :

    Article 25 (Universal Declaration of Human Rights of which the UK and the US are signatories)

    * (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

    No one argues that we should not consider how best to implement health care for all. If the UK has a terrible way of providing health care, we can develop are more efficient model. But it is not the view that people have a right to health care that makes health care not work for a society.

  2. When I then ask my interlocutor whether he can think of any reason why people should not be left to die in the street

    I’ve got a good reason for him – When you start letting people die in the streets because they’re too poor to afford healthcare, not long after you’ll find that the angry families of the dead, in a desperate to assuage their anger through retribution and revolution, will start hanging the healthy corpses of the wealthy from lamp posts and setting fire to their bodies.

  3. Damn, that’s some nasty reasoning; if I can stun someone into silence with my amorality I win

  4. It only works if you can disconnect one right to another. The sages of the Wall Street Journal editorial board would almost certainly claim a right to an orderly society, to a consistent and reliable business environment, to protection of their goods and families–aside from the most relevant argument over how those rights are secured, of course.

    Poor folks expiring in the street is bad for business unless your business is profiting from wealthy folks being afraid, or profiting from rock-bottom wages, or profiting from wholesale undertaking to Potters Field. As it is in the best bad behavior, the writer’s audacious claim is completely backward: failing to imagine a solution that improves everyone’s lot is not just a reduction of moral imagination; it’s an explosion of immoral imagination. That a tiny minority of people in this country exercise their immoral imagination so powerfully is the nightmare of Thomas Jefferson. The smug assurance of the archetypal WSJ editorial reader-and-nodder suggests another act of moral imagination: that those of us with good health insurance, good jobs, good education, reasonable wealth, satisfaction and security might not therefore become inured to the suffering of others. That some of us with the means (and the permission from the WSJ) to become arrogant selfish paranoid pricks might instead exercise the moral imagination to improve the nation for a reason that is not naked self-interest.

    So my argument is: regardless of whether we have a right to health care, we have a right to a morally healthy nation.


  5. What a pathetic, self-serving jag off. Let me guess, he has an MBA too? Fucking privileged nancy boy assholes.

  6. Sociopaths would leave people to die in the streets. I suspect the right side of the political spectrum contains a disproportionally high number of sociopaths. They share the same overwhelming level of self-interest.

    Then again, a modestly rational sociopath would understand that unchecked health issues and/or dead people in the streets is hazardous to his own health. An irrational sociopath may not. Perhaps this Dalrymple fellow falls into the latter category.

    The note at the end of his article indicates that he is a British physician. That would ironically be the best argument against the British health care system!

Comments are closed.