April 22, 2012

Will Obama's medical plan cost us all?

The Supreme Court has again been thrust into the divisive politics of our nation.

Depending on your viewpoint, its intervention may be either welcome or detested, just as in the Bush v. Gore Florida ballot challenge.

The current controversy has two dimensions. One is a concern about the expansion of health-care costs. I will address that next week.

The other point has to do with the perception of government control in our lives. As a friend reminds me, people don't like being told what to do, almost regardless of whether or not it is good for us, as individuals or a nation.

Like it or not, the federal government makes many economic decisions on our behalf. We must all pay toward Social Security, which, interestingly, is called social insurance in Canada. We pay this even when we are young and far from retirement.

Mandates for our own prudence are not unusual. Our founding fathers passed a law in 1790 that required all shipowners to purchase hospital insurance for their crews. Two years later, a Congress that still contained many constitutional framers required all able-bodied citizens to purchase a gun, and, six years after, all seamen were required to purchase their own hospital insurance.

It is a stretch to argue that the constitution framers banned the federal government from delving into our individual economic affairs. It happens often.

We may argue that government should not be able to mandate that we buy insurance if we want the rather essential privilege of driving a car or that all past, present and future parents — and even those who will never become parents — pay for education costs. However, that is a political argument, not a constitutional one. In this sense, the Supreme Court is prevailing on a debate we must have amongst ourselves.

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