Monday, February 04, 2008

To Your Health-Or Else!

In today's NY Post the paper reports on the flap over Hillary Clinton's health plan-and the controversy is instructive: "Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said yesterday for the first time that there might be some pain involved in her health-care plan - revealing she might garnishee the wages of people who try to skirt proposed mandatory insurance requirements."

But there's more to this than first meets the eye. You see, once you make all of this mandatory-after all it's for your health, isn't it?-you open the way for all kinds of coercive measures. If I the tax payer am footing your health bill I expect that you'll behave in a healthy way, or at least in a way that I believe is the healthy way for you to behave.

You're going to need to eat the right foods, exercise the right amount of time, and you're not going to be able to abuse your body with unhealthy substances such as alcohol, drugs and nicotine. On the road to health we're going to create what von Hayek called the Road to Serfdom, a world where health planning will inevitably lead to the loss of individual choices-and it won't stop with health.

We've already caught a glimpse of this Brave New World in the health policies of Bloomberg and Frieden. As we've commented before, "preventative medicine" can have ominous implications. As we pointed out a year ago: "There is a level of zeal that underlies this mayoral rhetoric that is far from being benign in its implications. In order to elevate prevention of disease over treatment there is a need to insinuate the government directly into the lives of Americans; a be healthy or else policy. This is necessary because, as one public health expert, Doug Badger of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, told the NY Sun, "The problem with prevention is that so much of it is about individual behavior and individual choices...I just don't know what sort of government programs would encourage people to take better care of themselves."

There is a long strain of this kind of philosophy im American history, and it can be trace back to the Progressive era's promotion of a eugenics policy that saw the health of the body politic being infected by the lesser breeds and races. It is, as Jonah Goldberg has pointed out in his Liberal Fascism book, a short side step to the German version implemented by the Nazis.

Now no one is saying that the concern over the people's health leads inevitably to fascism; but the need to utilize the power of the state to force people to be healthy has some rather unpleasant unintended consequences. Health choices need to be made by individuals who are provided with the best information we can give them. Ultimately, however, when you force people to be healthy you end up forcing them to do a lot of other less sanguine things.