Thursday, June 19, 2008
Via Matt Drudge comes a news story that illustrates perfectly what is wrong with the West. It leads with the recent finding that, on the whole, Australians are more likely to be obese than Americans and then notes the "necessity" of the government taking action to combat this "problem".
Why am I placing the term "problem" in quotes? Even if being overweight always doomed someone to poor health, what difference would it make to me, in a society where the government does not force me to pay for someone else's carelessness (through socialized medicine in this case) whether someone else is overweight? It would be that person's problem and not mine.
But under a mixed economy such as Australia's, the opposite is true.
Titled "Australia's Future Fat Bomb," the study compiled the results of height and weight checks carried out on 14,000 adult Australians in 2005.Those calls for a triage on the basis of a patient's personal habits (along with calls for the government to start meddling with them) will sound very familiar to regular readers here. Outright denial of services by individual physicians and similar proposals to expand the government have been heard from Britain recently.
The study predicted there would be an extra 700,000 heart-related hospital admissions in the next 20 years due to obesity and almost 125,000 people would die because of the condition in that period.
The report calls for a national weightloss strategy on the scale of smoking and skin cancer campaigns, including subsidising gym memberships and personal training sessions.
It suggested hospital waiting lists could be prioritised on the basis of weightloss, to give obese people incentive to slim down. [bold added]
On that score, this is just more of the same: The government discourages personal responsibility by doling out a necessity for "free" and then, when the economic cost of countless bad decisions becomes apparent, someone proposes to give the government an even greater improper role.
The West has been doing that for decades. Controls breed controls, as many economists point out, but don't go far enough when they do. What's so interesting here is how the West, which many conservatives and libertarians seem to think is trending towards greater freedom, speaks capitalist-sounding language even as it hastens its death spiral towards tyranny.
Just look at the talk about "incentives" here. The distinguishing characteristic of the government is that it is the sole social institution which can legally force people to do things or harm them. Properly, this physical force would be used only to protect the individual rights of citizens, but otherwise, when it is wielded, it will violate someone's rights, and all such instances also set the dangerous precedent that such is acceptable.
By its nature, then, when the government tells you what to do, it is basically doing so while pointing a gun at your skull. Government "incentives" to do anything other than respect the rights of others are morally equivalent to the "incentive" any street thug offers when he says, "Your money or your life."
So we already have one of the world's freer societies confused about individual rights and the proper role of the government -- and operating an altruist-collectivist medical system that rewards irresponsibility at the expense of the able and productive,
This is bad enough, but then Pragmatism, the rejection of principles on principle, rears its ugly head (and probably alongside that of ignorance of the nature of a better political system, capitalism). The one thing absent from this discussion of "incentives" is the one thing that best puts to work incentives -- the real incentives of the goal of self-preservation and betterment. That would be greater freedom.
If Australians were personally responsible for their own medical bills, each could consider for himself whether he regarded being overweight (or smoking, or whatever) as unhealthy and, if so, as worth the risk. Those who made good decisions would spend less on medical care to the extent that one's health depends on good habits, and those who did not would burden no one but themselves.
What boggles the mind is that all this talk about "incentives" you hear floating around all the time these days is directly because there is some appreciation out there for the efficiency of a market economy. But this often goes only so far, and only to the extent that some short-term goal -- evaluated wholly out of context -- is made to look easier to accomplish. So you get a proposed government control -- forcing the obese to the back of the line -- being called an "incentive".
The proper purpose of a government isn't to reduce the spending of confiscated money to some lower level by issuing orders to its citizens. it's to protect their right to live free from the threats and harm that come from other men initiating physical force. In this case, Australia shouldn't just refrain from hectoring its people about their habits: It should stop stealing their money and ruining their medical system.
In the meantime, something that would preserve freedom for all Australians; usually save prudent, virtuous, and productive Australians money; and incidentally, probably encourage many to make better personal choices is swept under the rug: Capitalism.
Australia's real "fat bomb" isn't a projected rise in public expenses caused by a government-encouraged neglect of personal health: It's the huge and growing level of involvement of its government in every aspect of the daily lives of its citizens. Not only that, the real "fat bomb" isn't just ticking. It's going off. Now.
The "fat bomb" cited in this study is, incidentally and ironically, merely a symptom, and the proposals laid out there would be as wise as treating a symptom while ignoring the disease.
PS: I have just noticed that Paul Hsieh has posted on mandatory waistline checks in Japan.
Today: (1) Added the word "legally" to description of government. (2) Added "of the nature of" between "ignorance" and "a better political system". (3) Corrected two typos.