Deny or disparage

This op-ed by John Mackey, CEO of whole foods, has caused somewhat of a stir.  A bunch of people decided to boycott his store (and use his website to do so).  I prefer the raw capitalism of buying from the actual grower–but I guess that makes me some kind of communist.  Anyway, this morning I ran across a couple of tepid defenses of Mackey's op-ed.  Here, Mary Schmich in the Chicago Tribune, and here the newly rejuvenated Kathleen Parker in the Washington Post.

Mackey lays out a series of proposals that address access to health insurance (but don't guarantee it); the only one aimed at reducing costs (aside from being healthy) is tort reform.  I think tort reform is a dubious strategy for a libertarian–if you have any rights at all, you have a right to sue people for contract breech or for failure to perform up to a certain standard.  There is empirical research of a kind on that point, however, which would at least address the question as to whether tort reform would have any effect on medical costs.  Once that question is resolved, however, one would have to balance one's right to sue an incompetent doctor against the communist benefits of lowering health care costs across the board.  

In addition to offering these and other points, he runs some counter arguments against "socialism."  Since no one is offering socialism, or even socialized medicine (if you don't know that, step away from the microphone at the town hall, go to the local library [for free!] and read some newspapers) I can hardly applaud his courage.  

He runs a version of the "rights" argument as well.  I don't know where people pick up these arguments, but it's really silly.  For some reason people have framed this discussion as one about rights–namely about the rights they're losing in having greater access to health care.  Perhaps this explains why people show up at town hall meetings with guns.  As Wyatt Cenac on the Daily Show indicated yesterday, that makes about as much sense as showing up drunk (which is another thing you have a right to do).

Here, in any case, is Mackey's right's argument:

Many promoters of health-care reform believe that people have an intrinsic ethical right to health care—to equal access to doctors, medicines and hospitals. While all of us empathize with those who are sick, how can we say that all people have more of an intrinsic right to health care than they have to food or shelter?

Health care is a service that we all need, but just like food and shelter it is best provided through voluntary and mutually beneficial market exchanges. A careful reading of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution will not reveal any intrinsic right to health care, food or shelter. That's because there isn't any. This "right" has never existed in America.

Even in countries like Canada and the U.K., there is no intrinsic right to health care. Rather, citizens in these countries are told by government bureaucrats what health-care treatments they are eligible to receive and when they can receive them. All countries with socialized medicine ration health care by forcing their citizens to wait in lines to receive scarce treatments.

The idea that the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence (again–not a ruling legal document!) enumerate all of our "intrinsic" rights is silly.  It's silly because, as people should never tire of pointing out, the Constitution, on a careful reading (slightly more careful than Mackey's) says:

Amendment 9 – Construction of Constitution. Ratified 12/15/1791.

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

There you have it folks.  A careful reading of the Constitution shows that you may have more rights than the Constitution says.

One more obvious point.  I think no one could seriously argue that the Constitution contains all intrinsic rights, such that their not being mentioned (see above, 9th Amendment) is evidence of their not existing.  That would be circular!

7 thoughts on “Deny or disparage”

  1. Good point, John!
    A lot of articles are just throwing spaghetti against the wall hoping that something would stick. It would be nice if someone would categorized all the arguments (the same way someone did with torture arguments).
    I see at least 2 major categories of objections: ideological and practical. Ideological objections are the ones that link it to socialism,  communism and rights. On the other hand, practical objections are the ones about national deficit, the quality and quantity of health-care.
    It seems to me that a lot of headaches are caused by focusing too much on the ideological debate; rather than the practical one. Also, I think a practical objection is also a more effective one.

  2. Yes BN, I believe that is right.  We have an ideological discussion, which too often veers into irrelevance, and a practical one, too often driven by ideology.   Every other advanced democracy in the world has demonstrated the practical feasibility of universal coverage.  It seems obvious then that we could achieve something similar to them, since, well, we are the awesomest, aren’t we?  But, in all seriousness, we could be having an actual discussion about the actual plans being offered (there are several).  They might, after all, suck on their own account, and not on account of Barack Obama’s wife wearing shorts.

  3. “Even in countries like Canada and the U.K., there is no intrinsic right to health care. Rather, citizens in these countries are told by government bureaucrats what health-care treatments they are eligible to receive and when they can receive them. All countries with socialized medicine ration health care by forcing their citizens to wait in lines to receive scarce treatments.”
    When will the “bureaucrat” argument go away? Has anyone ever tried to get individual insurance from a private insurance company? It’s nearly impossible to figure out what can and can’t be used against you to deny you coverage. When has a Canadian or a Brit ever had to waste their time and energy worrying about pre-existing conditions, whether an ambulance ride is going to be covered, etc.? Umm, never?  Moreover, there are plenty of health care plans where one has to call the health care company to receive PRIOR AUTHORIZATION before one can go to the doctor, or even the hospital. That is, if I’m not mistaken, an example of a bureaucrat deciding whether you can get treatment.
    My fiancee, who is in fine health, has been denied individual coverage twice: once because she was asked if she had ever taken any drugs (“occasionally smoked pot in college,” was her honest but naive response), and another time because she had cut the tendon in her thumb on some glass and it never healed correctly. Rejected. Couldn’t get ANY health insurance. She currently has group coverage through her job, but if she ever left to start her own business (which she’d really like to do), she’d once again be unable to get health insurance. This is the single greatest obstacle to her doing so. I wonder how Ayn Rand would feel about such a barrier to individual entrepreneurship.
    Usually I try and remain cool-headed about political issues, but the current situation is getting me a little upset. How can so many people be duped into voting and campaigning against their own interests?

  4. John, Obama’s wife is wearing shorts? Outrageous.
    On a personal note, growing up in a country that had universal health-care, I hate it. But, then again that was not an advanced democracy by any means. I would be willing to give this legislation a chance, as long as it improves both quality and quantity of health-care. So far, I’m not convinced.

  5. Fair Enough, BN.  As long as you know no one is suggesting we have the pre-Berlin wall Romanian system.

    Jem, you’re right.  An insurance company bureaucrat is also a bureaucrat, one who currently denies people coverage and comes “between them and their doctor.”

  6. yeah … paying with chickens and chocolate rum is not the way to go 🙂

  7. Chocolate rum?  I’m in.  Evidently Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck are doctors, so I can has be one too.  No INsurance?  More rum!

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