Be­ing taken care of weak­ens us

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

Wil­lie Whitelaw, a ge­nial old buf­fer who served as for­mer Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Mar­garet Thatcher’s deputy for many years, once ac­cused the La­bor Party of go­ing around Bri­tain stir­ring up ap­a­thy.

Mr. Whitelaw’s ap­par­ent para­dox is, in fact, a shrewd po­lit­i­cal in­sight and all the sharper for be­ing ac­ci­den­tal. Big gov­ern­ment de­pends, in large part, on go­ing around the coun­try stir­ring up ap­a­thy — cre­at­ing the sense that prob­lems are so big, so com­plex, so in­tractable that even at­tempt­ing to think about them for your­self gives you such a split­ting headache it’s eas­ier to shrug and ac­cept as given the propo­si­tion that only gov­ern­ment can deal with them.

Take health care. Have you read any of th­ese health care plans? Of course not. They’re huge and turgid and un­read­able. Un­less you’re a health care lob­by­ist, a health care think-tanker, a health care cor­re­spon­dent or some other fel­low who is paid di­rectly or in­di­rectly to plough through this stuff, why bother? None of the se­na­tors whose names are on the bills have read ‘em; why should you?

You can un­der­stand why they drag on a bit. If you at­tempt to de­vise a health care “plan“ for 300 mil­lion peo­ple, it’s bound to get a bit com­pli­cated. But a health care plan for you, Joe Sch­moe of 27 Elm St., didn’t use to be that com­pli­cated, did it? Let’s say you care­lessly drop Sen. Ed­ward M. Kennedy’s health care plan on your foot and it breaks your toe. In the old days, you would go to your doc­tor (or, in­deed, be­lieve it or not, have him come to you); he would patch you up; and you would write him a check. That’s the way it was in most of the de­vel­oped world within liv­ing mem­ory. Now, un­der the guise of “in­sur­ance,” var­i­ous third par­ties in­ter­cede be­tween the doc­tor and your check­book, and to this the gov­ern­ment pro­poses adding a mas­sive fed­eral bu­reau­cracy, in the in­ter­ests of “con­trol­ling costs.” The Bri­tish Na­tional Health Ser­vice is the big­gest em­ployer not just in the United King­dom, but in the whole of Europe. Care to es­ti­mate the size and bud­get of a U.S. health bu­reau­cracy?

Ac­cord­ing to U.N. fig­ures, life ex­pectancy in the United States is 78 years; in the United King­dom, it’s 79 — yay, go so­cial­ized health care! On the other hand, in Al­ba­nia, where the en­tire pop­u­la­tion chain-smokes and the health care sys­tem in­volves swim­ming to Italy, life ex­pectancy is still 71 years — or about where Amer­ica’s was a gen­er­a­tion or so back. Once you get child­hood mor­tal­ity un­der con­trol and ob­serve ba­sic hy­giene and life­style pre­cau­tions, the health “sys­tem” is rel­a­tively mar­ginal.

One notes that even in So­ma­lia, which still has high child­hood mor­tal­ity, not to men­tion a state of per­ma­nent civil war, func­tion­ing gov­ern­ment has col­lapsed, and yet life ex­pectancy has in­creased from 49 to 55. Maybe if gov­ern­ment were to col­lapse en­tirely in Wash­ing­ton, our life ex­pectancy would show equally re­mark­able gains. Just think­ing out­side the box here.

When Pres­i­dent Obama tells you he’s “re­form­ing” health care to “con­trol costs,” the point to re­mem­ber is that the only way to con­trol costs in health care is to have less of it.

In a gov­ern­ment sys­tem, the doc­tor, the nurse, the jan­i­tor and the as­sis­tant deputy as­so­ciate di­rec­tor of cost-con­trol sys­tem man­age­ment all have to be paid ev­ery Fri­day, so the sole means of con­trol­ling costs is to re­strict the pa­tient’s ac­cess to treat­ment.

In the prov­ince of Que­bec, pa­tients with se­vere in­con­ti­nence — i.e., they’re in the bath­room 12 times a night — wait three years for a sim­ple 30-minute pro­ce­dure. True, Que­be­cers have a year or two on Amer­i­cans in the life-ex­pectancy hit pa­rade, but if you’re mak­ing 12 trips a night to the john 365 nights a year for three years, in terms of life­spent-out­side-the-bath­room ex­pectancy, an unin­sured Ver­mon­ter may ac­tu­ally come out ahead.

As Louis XV is said to have pre­dicted, “Apres moi, le del­uge” — which seems as in­ci­sive an ob­ser­va­tion as any on a world in which free­born cit­i­zens of the wealth­i­est so­ci­eties in hu­man his­tory are con­tent to rise from their beds ev­ery half-hour ev­ery night and traipse to the toi­let for yet an­other flush sim­ply be­cause a gov­ern­ment bu­reau­cracy or­ders them to do so. Health is po­ten­tially a big-ticket item, but so is a house and a car, and most folks man­age to han­dle those without a Gov­ern­ment Ac­com­mo­da­tion Plan or a Gov­ern­ment Mo­tor Ve­hi­cles Sys­tem — or, at any rate, they did in pre-bailout Amer­ica.

More im­por­tant, there is a cost to gov­ern­men­tal­iz­ing ev­ery re­spon­si­bil­ity of adult­hood — and it is, in Mr. Whitelaw’s phrase, the stir­ring up of ap­a­thy. If you wan­der ‘round Liver­pool or An­twerp, Ham­burg or Lyons, the fa­tal­ism is pal­pa­ble. In the United King­dom, once the cru­cible of free­dom, civic life is all but dead: In Wales, North­ern Ire­land and Scot­land, some three-quar­ters of the econ­omy is gov­ern­ment spending; a ma­lign al­liance be­tween state bu­reau­crats and state de­pen­dents has cor­roded democ­racy, per­haps ir­repara­bly.

In Eng­land, the ground ceded to the worst so­cio­pathic patholo­gies ad­vances ev­ery day — and the lat­est re­port on “the seven evils” af­flict­ing an ever more unlovely land blames “poverty” and “in­di­vid­u­al­ism,” fail­ing to un­der­stand that if you re­move the bur­dens of in­di­vid­ual re­spon­si­bil­ity while loos­en­ing all re­straint on in­di­vid­ual he­do­nism, the va­por­iza­tion of the pub­lic space is all but in­evitable. In On­tario, Chris­tine El­liott, a can­di­date for the lead­er­ship of the so­called Con­ser­va­tive Party, is praised by the me­dia for of­fer­ing a more emol­lient con­ser­vatism pred­i­cated on “the need to take care of vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple.”

Look, by his­tor­i­cal stan­dards, we’re loaded: We have TVs and iPods and ma­chines to wash our clothes and our dishes. We’re the first so­ci­ety in which a symp­tom of poverty is obe­sity: Ev­ery man his own William Howard Taft. Of course, we’re “vul­ner­a­ble”: By def­i­ni­tion, we al­ways are.

But to de­mand a gov­ern­ment organized on the prin­ci­ple of preemp­tively “tak­ing care” of po­ten­tial vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties is to make all of us, in the long run, far more vul­ner­a­ble. A so­ci­ety of chil­dren can­not sur­vive, no mat­ter how all-em­brac­ing the gov­ern­ment nanny.

I get a lot of mail each week ar­gu­ing that when folks see the price tag at­tached to Mr. Obama’s plans, they’ll get an­gry. Maybe. But if Europe’s a guide, at least as many peo­ple will re­treat into ap­a­thy. Once big gov­ern­ment’s in place, it’s very hard to go back.

Mark Steyn is the au­thor of the New York Times best-seller “Amer­ica Alone.”

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