National Public Radio–among other left-leaning outlets–wondered openly, in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold most of Obamacare, why any states would reject the “free” Medicaid funding after the Court had permitted them to do so. I was surprised to hear so many so-called legal experts express the opinion that “free” money from the federal government (paid for by federal taxpayers, but never mind) would be a political loser for any Republican governor to turn away (as Scott Walker turned away federal transportation funds, but never mind).
I could not help but think of a fable we studied in my Hebrew class at my Jewish day school–in the third grade, if I recall correctly–of the dog and the wolf. The dog, plump and well-fed, with a luxuriant white coat of fur, invites the wolf, on a cold winter’s day, to join him in captivity. “I am chained to my doghouse, but I eat every day and I am warm,” says the dog to the wolf–or words to that effect. The wolf is tempted, but chooses a life of freedom in the wild–when he must hunt every day to survive–rather than a life of comfort that would require him to live in chains.
I imagine that the fable of the dog and the wolf has long since been replaced by some other tale propounding the themes of “social justice,” which is replacing Zionism as the secular faith of the mainstream American Jewish community. The messages of self-reliance–and national independence, the clear subtext (the wolf is almost certainly a reference to militant Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky, whose first name means “wolf” in Hebrew)–were likely a phenomenon of the post-Holocaust generation, and a cohort of Israeli teachers whose parents were pioneers in the desert, rather than anti-war liberals in the urbane surroundings of New York City or the suburban Midwest.
Why, indeed, would anyone turn down “free” money? Why should anyone give up willingly the many wonderful benefits that Obamacare provides? Is it not better to be on one’s parents’ health insurance well into adulthood, than to be without health insurance at all? Is it not better to have the government choose the best, subsidized insurance for you, rather than encouraging you to save for own? Who would give up security for perilous liberty? Did our forefathers? That was long ago.
A few months ago, I ran into an old friend at Starbucks, whom I had met while studying at a religious seminary in Israel. She was wearing a t-shirt from the local NPR affiliate, and was studying for law exams. We hadn’t seen each other for more than ten years, and she wanted to know why I had become a conservative, after starting out post-collegiate life as a far-left liberal. She was particularly interested in why I opposed Obamacare. Did I not care about the plight of the working poor–the McDonald’s worker, for example, who could not afford expensive private health insurance, or even food?
Never mind that McDonald’s actually does offer its employees basic health insurance–the fact is that we each have to worry about putting bread on the table each day, I said. Easy for you to say, she replied–you have a professional degree. That’s true, I admitted–but I had to work for it, and I’m still paying for it, so I have to keep working hard. At my job, in the private sector, we can’t afford even one bad day. And someone has to pay for all those public benefits. Besides which, there’s no human being yet who has solved the problem of necessity, I said. That’s life.
I think my friend represents the typical NPR listener fairly well–young, educated, affluent, and convinced that because the means (theoretically) exist to provide necessities for everyone, government ought to do so. She sees that not only as a desirable system, but one that is eminently possible, if only powerful private interests weren’t standing in the way. My experiences in the last decade have convinced me that such a system is not only impossible, but also undesirable, because it undermines the very prosperity that gives rise to the illusion in the first place.
One example will suffice. I lived abroad in South Africa for many years, and volunteered in a part of Cape Town where a million people lived in corrugated iron shacks. Despite the fact that the new South African Constitution–which our own Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg so fervently admires–guarantees the right to every basic necessity, there is no way the South African government can actually provide those necessities. So people who have the right to housing live without houses. And, in fact, it is because they have the right to housing that they don’t have houses, because the big-government policies the South African Constitution enshrines prevents people from providing for themselves.
Recently, the voters in the Western Cape (the province in which Cape Town is located) elected an opposition government, one that is committed to free market reforms. Instead of promising that the government would build housing for the poor, the province’s new leadership allocated the government’s housing funds to community groups that came up with their own development plans. On my last visit to South Africa, I saw the result of allowing the poor to do it for themselves: there were houses everywhere, and the shacks were disappearing rapidly.
The empirical reality that the free market–with all its faults–provides more and better than the government can provide is one that NPR does not share with its listeners too readily. Instead, it is part of the left-wing dream factory that is the mainstream media–encouraging faith in a government-led model of society that holds out utopian visions of social justice that just might work if people could be convinced to be devout enough in their commitment to greening the planet, spreading the wealth, et cetera. Whether such a society is desirable–it isn’t–is another question. But whether such a society is possible is something neither NPR, nor much of the mainstream media, wishes to consider. After all, if you believe “free” health care is really “free,” why interrupt such a happy illusion with hard reality? Better to be well-fed dogs, chained to the decrepit doghouse of the federal government, than hungry wolves.