Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Irresponsibles

Introduction: Past is Prologue

Part 1: The Irresponsibles

I ran across another article from Town Hall – as I often do – left in the last stall in the men’s room at work. As in Being John Malkovich, it’s like a magic portal into the brain of conservative America.

Ms. Star Parker inveighs against America’s ailing health care system, citing proposals by several states to mandate “vaccination of preteen girls with the human papillomavirus (HPV).” Sexually transmitted HPV infection can lead to cervical cancer. Predictably, her first complaint is not so much medical as economic.

Milton Friedman observed that health care keeps getting more expensive because the federal government, not patients, subsidizes so much of the cost with tax dollars, she explains. Real costs being invisible, patients have no incentive for curbing their consumption of health services.
“If you don't know the price tag of what you are buying, how can you know how much to buy? And, if someone else is picking up the tab, how do you know when to stop?”
Her thumbnail cost-benefit analysis concludes that at $400 a shot, the cost of vaccination is too expensive since (via the Washington Times) “fewer than one-hundredth of 1 percent of the 108 million U.S. women older than 18 (0.009 percent) get cervical cancer and even fewer die from it,” after a twenty-year incubation period.

So just cross your legs, little dears, and avoid getting stuck.

Like the government requiring us all to drive bigger cars because they’re safer, Parker suggests, this is another case where
“… a politician decides that we can't leave these decisions to individual consumers, but, in the name of public safety, government will mandate that everyone must buy a bigger, heavier car. And if you can't afford it, the government (i.e., taxpayers) will pay for it.”
Knowing how much car you can afford is nothing like deciding how much hospitalization you should buy for your infant with RSV-induced pneumonia.

But bad economic analogies aside, being conservative is largely about promoting efficiency, personal responsibility and personal freedom. It's a well-crafted pitch that justifies opting out of shared responsibility for society. Or as John Kenneth Galbraith observed,
"The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."
Their pitch is not exactly class-based, but based upon perceived virtue. It's just that wealth is a principle measure of virtue. Less wealth, less virtue. Conservatives object to sharing responsibility for society's upkeep with the nameless, faceless, numberless (more on that later), cheats and slackers they perceive as being – morally, not necessarily economically – of a lower, less virtuous caste: the unwashed Irresponsibles.

Next: "No American Left Behind"

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