Archive for November, 2009

“Universal” Health Care: the second nail in the coffin for freedom since Horace Mann

November 29, 2009

“Universal” health care is the second nail in the coffin for freedom since education was socialized.  It is the second greatest inroad of communism to hit this country since Horace Mann and other do-gooders ruined cheap and practically universal education by enthroning a fully government funded substitute that soon monopolized most of education.  Fortunately, power over public schooling was retained at a local level for much of its history, where authority has less corrupting influence and sway.  Health care reform seems to be dangerously federal and far wider in scope and scale, affecting a grander scale of demagoguery and political mischief.

The following contains 3 letters — an original letter from myself along with a reply to that letter and a subsequent followup response.  These letters serve to illustrate  how some of the underlying notions surrounding current health care reform (which looks like a full blown version of socialized medicine) have historical precedence in the public schooling movement that took place over a 100 years ago.  The similarities are stunningly apparent when you realize how those like Horace Mann, who sought to socialize education, shared many of the same intentions and ideas as proponents of socializing medicine do with regards to switching from a fee based system to a government subsidized system that secures jobs under a government paymaster in the name of promoting the general welfare of the less fortunate.


My Response:

Thanks for hearing all my political ramblings.  Although we may disagree on principles, it’s nice having a listener who can play the devil’s advocate and fuel my energy to provide the counter argument.  I think we both would have loved participating in debate teams in high school if our times and energies had been otherwise available.  Hopefully my passion and use of words doesn’t completely turn you off.  Luckily you appear tough enough to not take anything as a personal insult, but as a challenge to debate with your own energy and passion.

My analogy of health care to education is certainly not perfect, but I think that when you really look at the motivation, the history and the logical outcomes, there is a direct correlation with how the change from a fee based system in any one area to a public subsidized taxpayer paid system could be the launchpad for rationalizing the socialization of practically anything.  In that sense, the formation of “free” public schools might be seen as the first nail in the coffin of a truly free society. Dr. Milton Friedman has mentioned in his book “Free to Choose” how prior to changing education from a fee based system to a socialized system, education was practically universal for the ages of 5-15.  There were some exceptions — most notably the stories of frontier children like Abraham Lincoln, but they were the exception and not the rule as you look at the years right before the gradual transition from pure fee based schooling to partially government subsidized and finally to fully government subsidized education.  Interestingly enough, America had free public schooling before England (back then England was the leader of the world in the laissez faire attitude of capitalism when you compare it with the rest of Europe (e.g. France and Germany).  That was why the industrial revolution took off so well in England and led to true prosperity.  Sometimes political intervention caused nightmare scenarios — e.g. the excessive import duties of the Corn Laws may have led to the massive starvation of the Irish when potatoe blights occurred.  Othertimes political intervention may have protected individuals.  I’m still torn over whether child labor laws helped children in England or not.  Most of us have seen at one time or another pictures of coal black children working the mines in England or working in thread and fabric making plants.

The truly indigent were able to get subsidized grants when it came to education.  The difference before and after the instigation of mandatory free public schools was that there was much more variety in educational opportunities.  That’s the comparison I was trying to make — i.e. when you look at health care today, regardless of one’s political views on the matter, we already have universal health care.  Practically everyone can get health care, although it isn’t free in the sense of being directly paid for by the government at all levels.  The indigent can often get Medicaid or Medicare assistance.  Such was the case with early American education.  The irony (as it is with healthcare today) was that at the height of the political movement for “free” public schools, educational opportunities via private and government assisted schooling was also at high levels.  Nearly everyone can get basic health care if they truly need it and desire it.  Some sacrifice is sometimes necessary — e.g. you might have to pay some out of pocket.  When you say “only the rich children could afford to attend school”, I’m confused.  That’s like saying with regards to health care that only the rich could afford to have a cast when they broke their leg.  Yes only the rich might be able to get expensive plastic surgery done, yet even the poor are able to get life saving skin grafts (albeit they might not look as pretty).  I’m sure that if you did a historical study you would find that our ancestors had far less access to quality health care.  One could argue that such is the case because government has stepped in to ensure more access.  I happen to disagree with that argument.  I happen to believe that despite government, technology and resourcefulness of the free market has left more and more people with more discretionary money to spend on health care.  Yes some increase in health care spending is due to doctor’s proscribing more preliminary exams etc. out of fear of litigation and other lawsuit expenses.  Yet a significant amount of health care spending increase is probably due to consumers simply wanting to spend more on health care.  It’s like consumers spending more money on having customized options for consumer goods.  An over-pragmatic person might deem such spending as wasteful, fickleness.  A more insightful person might view this trend as simply the market rising to fulfill the growing expectations of the consumers.  As stated in the book “Myths of Rich and Poor” by Michael W. Cox, on pg 36:

As with so many other aspects of a free-enterprise economy, variety is simply a matter of giving consumers what they want. The market delivers a multiplicity of styles, brands, models, and colors in tacit recognition of the fact that tastes and preferences aren’t homogenous.  It does so from a motive no more sublime than the self-interest of companies looking to make money.  Variety increases value to consumers, so producers who indulge our tastes for it increase their sales.  We have more diversity because there’s a market for it, one built on rising incomes.  Poor societies have few choices.  Variety is a luxury available to wealthy nations.

Unfortunately we have become ashamed of our own wealth.  Success in this land of opportunity has been mocked and dismissed with the derisive cat-o-nine-tails of those in political power, who preach against private industry as if they were gods driving wicked money changes away from the footsteps of holy temples.  They do so while touting “free” and mandatory public healthcare as “universal healthcare”.  The only thing universal about their so called “universal healthcare” is that it will be mandatory and paid by all taxpayers alike.  Unfortunately private insurance premiums are rising and will continue to rise as the government uses its mafia like power to ensure monopoly-like power in any field they choose to subsidize or provide a government option for.  Government may not be a monopoly in a market it enters using taxpayer dollars as venture capital, but it still holds monopoly like powers — i.e. it automatically doesn’t have to worry about competition in the same sense as a normal business.  And once a government entity enters the marketplace all too often special interest groups that stand to gain from government intervention will use their influence and lobbyists to help ensure that such an entity gains more sway in the marketplace.  Such was the historical case with public schools — initially they were locally controlled, but after the 1920’s they increasingly became the eminent domain of professional educators and other educational special interest groups seeking to profit at the taxpayers’ expense.

Yes private schooling continues to exist today, and I’m sure that private insurance will continue to exist even with a public option.  Yet it will increasingly become a domain restricted to the upper class gentry.  Isn’t it ironic that many in Congress retain their own version of health care insurance plans and don’t even intend on participating in the very public option of health insurance that they are essentially mandating to all who will soon not be able to afford the private alternatives?  Will there be insurance voucher programs?  Surely such an option would logically be proposed.  Yet like with school vouchers such vouchers are only a partial solution.  They might provide people/parents more freedom of choice.  On the other hand they could likewise taint any recipients of such vouchers as having to cater to government set mandates.  Once the government makes a significant market entry into the insurance industry, all taxpayers have less choice of what options they can choose.   As private insurance companies have to provide services to everyone, they will have to raise their premiums significantly.  As happened in Hawaii with their version of “universal child health care”, the vast majority of citizens will be increasingly tempted to take the cheap government option.  Otherwise they’re doubly paying for insurance. Only the rich may be able to afford private coverage and better health care providers than the masses.  It doesn’t surprise me that the real irony of socialism is that it exacerbates the very class warfare it pretends to mitigate.  It’s no surprise that only under the heavy hand of socialism in eastern Europe did people harbor and regurgitate the hate inspired messages of Karl Marx.  For the most part, it was only there that people truly felt the emotions of such terms as “proletariat” and “bourgeoisie”.  Only a few brave of them dared publically mention (and risk torture or social punishment) that the real “bourgeoisie” was the newly rich political class — e.g. in East Germany the political class all had the best cars and housing.  In America the new political class might be seen as government workers, particularly those with political clout as well as a growing number of lawyers who increasingly seek monetary gain by harnessing the covetous energies of both rich and poor via lawsuits.

Speaking of teachers I agree that many teachers are grossly underpaid while some are grossly overpaid. What I’m trying to say is that when the question comes down to the voter it becomes an undesirable moral obligation to decide en masse what the average teacher should be worth.  If this same decision of what the average surgeon or doctor should be recompensed becomes a political one rather than a market one, I can only see the same contempt from the average citizen for being obligated to make such a decision that the market should decide.  Thus my explitive phrase “HELL NO” wasn’t directed at the poor individual teacher who is probably working their heart out with little thanks and minimal resources in a bloated bureaucratic system, but at the system they have had to work under since Horace Mann and other do-gooder politicians put teachers unions above teachers and parents.



Others Reply:

Your comparison of health care to the educational system of old is interesting.  From my own reading, prior to free public schooling, only the rich children could afford to attend school.  Education wasn’t truly universal.  And in fact today, with the combination of free public schools and private for-pay schools, students have many more choices than the past pay-only system.  Those who can’t afford an education can still take advantage of public systems.  Those who can afford private schooling can choose that option instead of opting for a public school.  There are more choices than if only private schools were offered.

We should also view some sectors of society as public-goods.  That is, if all members of society have greater opportunities (and then take advantage of them), then everyone benefits.  If all in my community have access to education, then it raises the standard of living in my community, which increases job opportunities, wages, home values, etc.

The reverse is true when we hoard these opportunities.  It’s not like these things are scarce resources.  In fact, when we make these resources available to more people, it multiplies the effectiveness of the outcome.

As for teachers deserving a raise, I think it depends on the system. Some teachers make more than they deserve.  But others, including My wife when she worked, make less than what they deserve. Interestingly, my wife worked for a charter school, which is a proponent of the free market crowd.  All teachers at that school were paid poorly.  As a result, there was a high turnover rate, which ultimately affected the performance of the school and the education of the students.

-name of acquaintance ommitted to protect the innocent


Original letter from nikolaus6:

Last night I read a chapter from Milton Friedman’s book “Free to Choose”on the history of public education.  Interesting to read how before education was made free it was similar to today’s healthcare, i.e. it was almost universally available, government assistance was already available to those who really couldn’t afford it, and there was no compulsory attendance.  The parents paid for at least some of their child’s education and the child was there of his own free will and choice, albeit with some parental influence.  The direct involvement of the parent as the consumer of buying education for his children, there was much more power exerted by such consumers on the education market.  Schools were therefore much more efficient and actually listened to their consumers (or they might be out of business!).  Likewise, the history of public education involved special interest groups seeking political advantages for their personal gain — in this case professional educators and teachers desiring the stability of a government paymaster.  Unfortunately we are too often spoon fed the false notion that public education arose from the beneficient efforts of educational reformers to fill a huge gap in providing education for the poor masses that couldn’t afford it.  We are too often led to believe that such educational reform was driven mostly by parents seeking better educational opportunities for their children.  The actual truth of labor unions and special interests seeking political gain by duping the masses with false ideas evades most people today.

That is why the health care reform of today is so scary.  I fear that my kids or grandkids will forget what really happened and be duped into thinking that the health care reform was done to make health care “universal”, when in fact it was already “universal”, but not yet socialized. They will be left in the same ironic situation we face today every election time:

Do teachers/doctors/social workers deserve a raise?

What was once a market decision, now becomes a moral decision.  The irony is that in trying to make us free of the burden of having to make such nasty grown up decisions as actually taking care of ourselves, they ultimately have to either present us with a new moral decision of how to allocate and prioritize our newly collectivized funds for more socialized programs or make such decisions for us.  Either way they face a moral dilemma where once there was none.  What once was objectively decided by natural market forces, i.e. prices of the free market, become moral quandaries of a central planning committee.


P.S. As far as I’m concerned, do teachers/doctors/social workers deserve a raise?  HELL NO if the government is their paymaster.