Mandates, mandates everywhere

…and not a drop to drink.  Of common sense, that is.

Last night in the GOP debate, Romney and Gingrich argued about who was supported the insurance mandate first.  From the transcript, it sounds like Mitt beat Newt (two rather unusual names, incidentally).

I have to confess, though I’m sure to get lots of hate mail, that of all the things that make me ticked off about Big Government, the individual mandate in ObamaCare is not that high on the list.  ObamaCare will be a disaster for many reasons, mostly because real cost controls are only a fantasy component of the Act, because people have little skin in the game that might help contain costs, and because insurance companies are essentially turned from insurers into charitable organizations that are obligated to provide coverage for whoever knocks at their door.

Indeed, the mandate is one of the few parts of the ACA that make any sense and they keep the rest of the monstrosity hanging together, sort of.  If anything, the mandates don’t have enough bite, because the consequences for ignoring them are not high enough.

People are opposed to the mandate on Constitutional grounds, arguing that the government forcing us to buy something is a major new erosion of our already fragile economic liberties.  Randy Bennett refers to it as “commandeering the people,” according to a column by John Fund today of the Wall Street Journal.  This sounds like a fairly sensible libertarian argument, but I’m wondering if it is really just a distinction without a difference.  The mandate says, “Thou shalt buy health insurance (or get slapped on the hand).”  Even if the fines were more substantial, it doesn’t change the fact that the government mandates us to buy things all the time:

  • Thou shalt invest in poorly thought out wind power companies
  • Thou shalt fund ridiculous research that will benefit no one other than professors at research universities (some of my research, for instance)
  • Thou shalt purchase access to National Parks thou wilt never visit.

The list goes on and on.  Every purchase the government makes is a mandate.  I’m being forced to buy a massive number of things I don’t want and prohibited from buying things I do, like decent light bulbs or shower heads strong enough to rinse the soap off my body (forgive me for enticing you with that image).

When someone forces me to pay for something I don’t want, I call that a mandate.  Brother, I see mandates everywhere!

And I haven’t even got to the mandates from states and local governments: If I had a dog, I’d have to buy her a license (and it is my wife, not the government, that won’t let me have a dog!); I have to pay to educate everyone’s kids (fortunately I have enough of my own to get a good return on that expense); my community is forcing me to pay for a new Rec Center (which I will likely use and enjoy but make sure people know that I was forced to pay for it).  Given that local governments specialize in petty tyranny, there is no end in sight.

At least the mandate in the ACA is something that almost all people actually want to buy.  And the feds are giving a very large subsidy to do so.  So what is the problem?   (Ignore for the moment that someone has to actually pay for the subsidies and the fact that paying for other people’s health insurance is far more invasive than being forced to pay for my own insurance.)

Of course I’m not arguing that all these government mandates are a good idea.  The appropriate role of how many mandated expenses should be asked of citizens is a question we should always be asking.  My answer is simple: not too many and only for damn good reasons.

What I’m worried about is that next year the Court will strip out the mandate and leave the rest of the monstrosity in place.  The mandate was the grand bargain in which the insurance companies agreed to insure people regardless of risk and cease, therefore, to be insurance companies.  Without the mandate, the ACA ceases to be a major disaster and becomes a freakin’ major disaster.

When will people learn to complain about the right things?

2 thoughts on “Mandates, mandates everywhere

  1. I think you hit the nail on the head. But, at the end of the day, something people always forget about all insurance is that you are always paying for someone elses care and they are paying for yours. This is kind of how insurance works. All Private insurance and Medicare works exactly like this. Even unemployment insurance. It’s insurance against loss of employment. When your neighbors house burns down you don’t get angry because he files a claim. (There could be a private sector solution to even this.)

    Whether the individual risk profiles are priced properly, or whether they are actuarily sound, is a whole other debate.

    (I might have got off topic, so sorry if I did.)

  2. When people refer to insurance, they are usually referring to pure risk insurance. To be pure risk insurance it should be non-compulsory. Pure risk insurance is never actuarially sound unless it is non-compulsory. Compulsory auto insurance is not sound, which is why rates constantly rise and carriers refuse to participate in some markets after a while.

    Compulsory insurance schemes are really better likened to be social insurance or welfare. This is why, as a policy prescription, social insurance or welfare are better choices than compulsory insurance laws.

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