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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Altruism and Government Health Care

Like death and taxes, the other eternal constant is the liberal idea that the best way to fix the problems of the nation is to increase the power of the federal government. From the question of gay marriage, to the problem of inner city crime, to economic downturns, the left never talks about anything else other than more power, more regulation, more public fixes for private problems. The consequences of federal government involvement involvement, ironically, tend to defeat the very goal of the Left. Liberals love to criticize conservatism “hands off” approach as cold and heartless, but then they lament when people, driven by their self-interest and self-worth, screw with the system they made. Before their involvement, you didn't matter to government because they weren't involved and therefore had no reason to listen to you. Your problems were that of the localities and the states. After their involvement, you didn't matter to government because you've been shoved out of the way by the more affluent. The rich private citizens willing to manipulate the public trust to create a positive outcome for themselves beat you to the punch.

Altruism and Self-Interest

Pure altruism is a myth. No matter how you fancy it up, recognize it at dinners or write about it in books. No one is ever purely selfless in their actions, no matter the extend of benefit of it. People donate to their causes because they have a interest in seeing it succeed, may it be that their kid is autistic, their friend has breast cancer or they want to feel good about curing muscular dystrophy. Altruistic actions are not bad because of this self-interest, of course. In fact, without self-interest these causes would never see the light of day.

It's human nature to have self-interest. We all have our own thoughts, hobbies, goals, wants, needs, etc. No two human beings are the same no matter how close genetically they are. Parents and children bicker, siblings argue, even identical twins fight. Hell, you clone someone, their clone will have a different web of experience from which to shape their personality because they aren't the original. We are all different and because of that there is a plethoras of different requirements for our comfort and needs, and that directs our actions.

The base of all human action is our self-interest in performing the action. How does this benefit me? How does this make my life better? Does this action aid my goal? These are the questions that we go through consciously or unconsciously when we perform our actions. There is no way you can detach the self from what you do. Even the most egalitarian of activists will have self-centered reasons for their charity or their aid, may it be to sate a moral view or to make up for some past wrong the activist believes he/she must pay penance for. And the center of it all is the self. The self will always be there.

Self-interest plays a major role in determining one's self-worth. Your self-worth determines the extent of your self-interest in the actions you make. Your worth in the eyes of others determines the extent they are willing to sacrifice for you. People who run for president have a high view of self-worth. Simply running for president puts these people in a position of high worth in the eyes of the people. Even before anyone has won the federal government will pay for the most strict protection of these people, if they ask for it. Mayors, state senators, governors don't get such protection. And, of course, neither will the common citizen.

Not everyone can be presidents or governors or state senators or mayors. Most of us will never hold public office or a private sector equivalent. Most of us will have just our family, our friends, our co-workers and, maybe, a small business. Our self-worth is very important when the extent of people who consider us worthy is very small. Unlike public officials, who have their private lives to fall back on, if we lose face within our small group we could lose years upon years of hard work. Friends, family, livelihoods; all can vanish so quickly for those not buoyed by the taxpayer. It's this reason why individual economic choice relates to the quality of living for individuals because people who have self-worth are more likely to choose the proper products and services required to keep them at their level of worth.

The Left have a hard time getting that the government is not separate from the people who run it. Its pretty naïve to think that self-interest goes away when one enters government. When leftist talk about government regulation, government nationalization, government charity and so on, they talk as if people like Chris Dodd, Maxine Waters, Ted Stevens and John Murtha don't exist. They talk as if the government's interest in the people is different than the interest these fine examples of American leadership have. They are wrong. The government's interest is the self-interest of the individuals within it. There is no pure altruistic reason for Congress to pass laws just like there is no pure altruistic reason for individuals to act. Everything, no matter the collective benefit, is always done with self-interest at the center. As evidence by the ever expanding federal web, self-interest amplifies when given the tools like the feds have, and its rarely ever in the absolute best interests of the people. Not to mention the individuals who lobby the government for their own self-interest because government has claimed the economic cookie jar.

Self-Interest and Health Care

As I noted a few days ago, the health care debate is being centered around the idea that a government option to private health insurance (and by that, private health care overall) will be a more altruistic option compared to the evil, cold private health care industry. The problem with creating a government health insurance option is that 1) we already have several government insurance options, which points me to the conclusion that this new push is a first step to absolute state control of health care, and 2) the self-interest of government will inevitably pervert the program and that will conflict with the self-interest (and self-preservation) of the individuals in the program.

There is little doubt that there are problems with our current health care system, which I believe have a lot to do with the monopolization of certain markets by the federal government, but there is still the ability for consumers to pick and choose their coverage, if they wish to have coverage (which many have chosen NOT to have). The ability to choose allows the individual to fulfill its health requirements as it deems necessary. If the feds choose to nationalize health care then choice becomes history and the ability for the individual to get what it needs for its health become the decision of someone who doesn't have a vested self interest in the individual, but in the self-interest of the government, which, I repeat, is just the self-interest of individuals who have a greater collective worth to the nation than you have. If it becomes too costly for you to live, the government will ax your treatment. Its already happened in the UK with cancer treatments.

Everyone Is Out For Themselves

The irony of the health care debate, like most debates between the left and right, comes back to moral philosophy. In the torture debate, the argument is against utilitarian justifications for harsh interrogation. The discomfort or pain of one terrorist isn't worth the moral rot utilitarianism spreads on the people, so they say. But when it comes to health care, no matter how they fancy it up about giving everyone access (which everyone already has through private companies and public programs), a single payer government run health care system will absolutely take the utilitarian view in that there is no way the government can sate the health requirements of over 300 million people and remain economically solvent. The cost to give everyone what they need (or want) medically would bankrupt the nation faster than you can imagine.

The ability for the individual to choose, and the opportunity to choose that private industry gives, allows for a more satisfying and more efficient system of access to health care for the common man than a single, bloated, micromanaged government system that will always be looking out for the government's interests (and the intersts of its friends) and not that of the common individual.


yukio ngaby said...

Thoughtful post, but there's a lot of generalities.

"Pure altruism is a myth."

I'm afraid I disagree with that. There are people who willingly give their lives for others... the man on that DC-10 that crashed into the frozen river back in the '80s-- he passed his lifeline away 3 or 4 times to strangers and died in the cold. There are other examples. I wouldn't write off something as impossible simply because it is rare or exceptional.

"the self-interest of government will inevitably pervert the program and that will conflict with the self-interest (and self-preservation) of the individuals in the program."

Corruption and individual self-interest of the political elite are factors within a governmental structure, sure. But to generalize it as the main reason for govt.'s inefficiency or ineffectiveness, or a worst case scenario of tyranny, I think is far too sweeping.

Govt. bureaucracies and institutions have a way of imposing themselves according to their own doctrines independent of the elites. The elites are part the system not independent of it. They have perks, not carte blanche, granted by the very institutions and systems that they control. This is inevitable, not the results of law, public policy or checks-and-balances.

So, while a political elite's self-interest can (and often does) contribute to the perversion of a program, it actually can only be a factor among a host of factors. It may get the most notice, but it cannot be the only factor.

Frank Herbert made some interesting assertions regarding govt. and the power of institutions and bureaucracies in much of his work. I don't agree with everything, of course, in fact probably not most of it. But I never found anything that wasn't thought provoking and a lot of it forced me to more clearly define a lot of my views.

Jordan said...

I guess we have differing views on what altruism is. As defined, altruism is the "[u]nselfish concern for the welfare of others; selflessness"[1]. We could probably argue for days over the definition (especially selflessness), but I hold that being selfless and doing selfless things has a tinge of self-interest because to be selfless is to sate your moral need to be selfless. I believe because we are wholly contained individuals that every act we do is in some way self-interested, no matter the extent of the benefit to others or the extent of the detriment to the individual.

As for the generalities, this article was a drain on me. I don't know if it was 'cause I wrote it at work or that I just wasn't in it, but I have half-a-mind to rewrite this down the road and flesh it out :p

yukio ngaby said...

"We could probably argue for days over the definition (especially selflessness)"

Yeah, I definitely agree and I don't want to do that. But that being said, it's a bit dishonest to use a loosely used term, define it down to something that can be easily disproved, and then proceed as if you have disproved all forms and interpretations of the concept. I mean, I argue that Sartre did that with the whole human essence thing.

Man, I sound like an arrogant ass. I'm sorry about that. Plus, I'm pretty sure I'm a hypcrite because I've probably done the same thing myself in some of my posts. I try not to though.

The argument as to why govt. should or should not run certain aspects of the economy is compelling though. And with Obama is the White House and a Dem Congress, extremely critical right now.

Jordan said...

Hey, no worries.

I agree on the accurate use of language, but I do write for my ideological rivals as well and using big words would just confuse them. Federalism is hard enough for them ;)