Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The health benefits of a stay in the slammer

Whether you support or oppose the health-care bill that passed in the House of Representatives over the weekend and now faces an uncertain fate in the Senate, there's no doubt that it will do at least one thing: if passed into law, the unprecedented expansion of the role and power of government will create yet more opportunities for conflict between Americans and law-enforcement officers, with fines, prison and worse at stake for those unlucky enough to be caught on the wrong side of yet another supposed government effort to make the world a better place.

In an August 2008 post, I wrote:
[T]he authorities try, and try and try to make people knuckle under to laws that they find offensive and intrusive. And as people refuse to comply, the authorities raise the stakes, adopting tactics that most of us recognize as violations of civil liberties...
The point that I made is that, when politicians push their authority beyond the boundaries of policies that enjoy near-universal support of the population and into contentious areas that involve imposing the will of the current crop of political officials on a sizeable and unwilling segment of the population, resistance is likely to be substantial. To overcome that resistance, the government adopts forceful tactics and harsh penalties -- and off we go on an escalating conflict between the enforcers and the opposition.

The government would certainly be pushing into new territory with a bill that mandates that people buy government-approved health coverage or else pay a substantial penalty. Fifteen years ago, when such policies were first proposed by the Clinton administration, the Congressional Budget Office cautioned (PDF):
A mandate requiring all individuals to purchase health insurance would be an unprecedented form of federal action. The government has never required people to buy any good or service as a condition of lawful residence in the United States.
Such an imposition can't help but be controversial and, indeed, fifteen years later it's still stirring up opposition and may not survive a vote in the Senate. Controversial as it is, it's bound to face resistance -- which its authors anticipated. Penalties for noncompliance have been rolled into the tax code, which means, according to the nonpartisan House Joint Committee on Taxation (PDF), if "the taxpayer has chosen not to comply with the individual mandate and not to pay the additional tax," he or she could face "a fine of up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment of up to five years."

That stiff fine and prison sentence is a worst-case scenario -- in case of a felony conviction for noncompliance. But it's what the House of Representatives has voted to add to the government's armory for use against Americans who don't want to be swept up in the government's latest effort to, allegedly, make the country a healthier place.

This is the dirty secret of health care "reform" as enacted by the government. The fact of the matter is that the only reason to ask the government to get involved in any issue is to draw upon its unique powers to use force against people who say "no." Every government reform comes backed by tough men and women carrying guns, handcuffs and the keys to prison cells.

Yes, the health care bill only latches on to penalties that already exist for noncompliance with previously established programs. But that's just further evidence that every government "reform," no matter how well-intended, increases the likelihood that any one of us will end up in conflict with the government, with brutal consequences at stake.



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