September 15, 2011
During Monday night's Republican debate, in response to a hypothetical question from the awful Wolf Blitzer, the audience and Ron Paul seemed comfortable with the idea that a young person who is uninsured but suffers a life-threatening condition should be allowed to die because he chose not to buy health insurance. The alternative of a socialized single payer medical system where everyone is covered without exception, the norm in almost all developed countries, is of course too ghastly to contemplate for these lovers of personal freedom.
It turns out that the question was, at least as far as Paul was concerned, not that hypothetical after all. Kent Snyder, Ron Paul's campaign manager in his run for the presidency in 2008, died at the age of 49 of complications from pneumonia, penniless and uninsured, because the premiums he would have had to pay to buy insurance were too high because of pre-existing conditions. The death of someone who was so close to him, purely because he could not afford health insurance, does not seem to have influenced Paul in the least. Instead, being the true believer he is, he eulogized Snyder as a martyr to the libertarian cause, which I am sure Snyder's bereaved mother, who was also stuck with her son's medical bills, deeply appreciated.
A self-described libertarian posted this comment on the above article about Snyder's death: "My personal belief is that it is not society's responsibility to deal with the uninsured. In extreme circumstances (national disasters for example), perhaps. My tax dollars need to go to basic government services, nothing else. I don't need to fund the NEA, someone's family planning mistake or alternative energy companies, etc, etc. I'm sorry to appear callous but its not my responsibility to take care of a total stranger. We are all adults here, presumably, lets deal with our own issues ourselves."
I am always amused by libertarians' careful inclusion of the 'basic government services' and 'national disasters' exemptions to their general 'keep the government out of everything' policy. It usually means that they want the government to intervene only to help when they themselves are in need. These libertarians tend to be well off owners of property and are self-centered hypocrites, wanting the government to provide only the services that they want and benefit from. So they want things like police and a military and a fire department and good roads because those things benefits and protect their property, and they can afford to pay for everything else. They also want a national disaster exemption because earthquakes and hurricanes do not distinguish between the rich and poor and could hit them too. If you are a consistent libertarian, surely you should support the idea that those services too should also be the product of the free markets? Why shouldn't people organize and pay for their own police and fire departments and pave the roads they drive upon?
Fortunately, not everyone embraces the cold-hearted libertarian philosophy that the wellbeing of total strangers is not our concern. Watch this video in which a motley group of strangers from all walks of life spontaneously come together, risking serious injury, to rescue a motorcyclist who was trapped under a burning car. They are hesitant and frightened, not sure what to do, but something about the plight of a fellow human being drives them to feel they must help and they come together to lift the car and drag him out.
Of course, there is a difference between the way one responds to an immediate need that one sees in front of one's eyes and how one reacts to people who are suffering out of sight. But the difference is not as great as one might think. The impulse to help others in need is universal. News reports afterwards said that the motorcyclist survived. The rescuers did not know what drove them to help but as soon as the woman who looked under the car said that he seemed to be alive, it galvanized everyone to take collective action.
This is why I think that the libertarian philosophy of having the government not take responsibility for the general welfare of the people will never take root beyond the ranks of a small, smug, affluent, minority. There is something deep within most people that causes them to be stirred and respond to the plight of others in need. I believe that it is biological and primeval and cannot be extinguished by the oligarchy and the manipulative politicians who are its servants, who seek to stoke the selfish instincts of people in order to benefit themselves.
I will trust my life in the hands of ordinary people over doctrinaire libertarians any day.