Friday, February 17, 2012

And furthermore...

As a fair number of people know who don't happen to live in my own town (because people who live in my own town never know what I'm actually doing, one of those strange things), I've been rather busy this past week blogging and being interviewed about some statistical strangeness published by the Guttmacher Institute concerning Catholic women's use of contraception.

In the many blog comments that I've read and responded to on this, what I've been perhaps most appalled by and had the least time to talk about is the sheer insanity of the entitlement mindset. My group blog colleague Tony put one aspect of this well, here:
Until a few years ago, lots and lots of employers didn't cover it, and no state mandated it. Now you want to call employer paid coverage "normative access". Just like THAT? What had been only a few years ago a voluntary feature of some employers becomes "normative"...why? Because lots of liberals don't want to have to pay for it out of their pocket. Now that's a compelling reason to violate the consciences of others.


It appalls me to see this happen. Liberals rag on conservatives for wanting to preserve customs (usually, good, wholesome, worthwhile, highly integrated customs) because those customs stand in the way of some (usually minority) group's new libertine behavior. They laugh off the whole idea of custom, of tradition, having a bearing on what we ought to do today. But along comes some almost-brand-new practice that they have conned a bare majority into accepting in the last few years, and all of a sudden they LIKE arguments based on "normative" standards, i.e. based on "what people have been doing, and so expect to do". This is Orwellian, or rather Satanic, since he is the father of lies. It is almost too putrid to even speak about without gagging on it.

Commentator Untenured said this in another thread:
It is absurd for the liberals to claim that the Church is trying to "force" or "impose" its morality on people simply because it won't pay for people's pills and rubbers. And I have heard a lot of otherwise intelligent people make this claim. They are either a)deliberately and intentionally using the word "force" in an Orwellian manner so as to gain a rhetorical advantage or b)they are using the word "force" in a loosened Marxist sense that has been drained of all content and is of no moral significance. Either way, the underlying argument is absurd. The government is the one deploying all of the "force" here, and yet we are asked to believe that the Church is "forcing" people not to use contraception simply by not paying for it. Using this same "reasoning", the government is "forcing" poor people to abstain from alcohol because food stamps don't purchase liquor.

I replied thus:
Untenured, I tell you in all solemnity, the insanity of people's whole economic and entitlement approach to this is very nearly as frightening, if not more frightening, in its own way than the religious liberty issue. And indeed, the two are related. When something out of the blue becomes "health care" and then from there becomes an entitlement for full subsidy by the private sector, we really are moving into an extremely strange and politicized version of a communistic society. I say that knowing that it will get ridicule from the word-monitors. "She said a cognate of 'communism'! She's crazy!" Heck, around here I have even been called out for using "socialism" to refer to the notion that all the wealth of a country is the common stock of "the people," so long as that is not accompanied by the explicit assertion that the state should own all the means of production!

But indeed it is true that what we have here is a kind of selective and coercive Marxism. Arbitrarily, a politicized list of goods and services are treated as entitlements and, as the comments in these threads show, as though they have _always_ been entitlements, rather than having been newly minted entitlements in just the past year. From there the step to, "You are coercing me if you don't pay for this for me so that it is free-to-me" is but a small step.

In discussing this further, let's think about one of the most fundamental insights of free market economics: Nothing is free. There is no such thing as a free lunch. And things cannot simply be made free by magic.

I have a lovely illustrated book of fairy tales. In one of the stories a young man is given a rose by a fairy. All he has to do is shake the rose to get as much gold as he needs.

The leftist (and, I'm afraid, some social conservatives') approach to economics is, similarly, a magical thinking approach. In the world of someone who doesn't get the basic No Free Lunch principle, things can simply be made free by declaration, by fiat, and, most importantly, by good will. The only reason that things aren't free is because someone is being permitted to make a profit off of them, and profit is not necessary, so it's always a kind of great favor that the government is doing anyone by not declaring that he has to provide some goods or services for free. However, if something is really imporant, this benevolent permission can be withdrawn and the manufacturer or seller can be ordered to provide some specified thing for free.

Muddle-headed but well-meaning people usually start out on the road to economic magical thinking by looking at something and saying, "It shouldn't cost that much. It should cost less." They really don't know what they mean. Nor do they have anything specific in mind. It isn't that they are looking at the gas taxes that are making their gas more expensive and suggesting that government lower gas taxes. It isn't that they know for a fact that the store owner who puts that price on it is using precisely the difference between what the item "should" cost and what it does cost to drink himself to death. It's just a feeling.

Then, sometimes, they move to, "Why can't that be provided for free?" "That kind of thing should be free."

Usually, the kind of thing about which they say that is something very important, or something they view as very important, such as (legitimate) health care.

It can seem rather insulting to point out to these people that it is not free to manufacture drugs, that doctors have to live and eat too and should not be forced to engage in slave labor, working for free, any more than anyone else should, that medical supplies of all kinds are costly, that the education doctors have received involves other people and resources that do not come out of nowhere, and so on and so forth. Somehow if one points this out, one never gets very far.

Now, if we really tried to apply Rose of Gold economics consistently across the board, we would drive ourselves to economic hell in a handbasket extremely quickly (instead of only medium fast, as we are currently doing). No one actually says, "Well, heck! Everyone needs food, water, clothing, housing, and means of transportation as well as health care. Let's just declare all of it free! All important goods and services in America will now be free."

At some level they retain enough of a bare edge of common sense to know that that would be walking into a propeller. So instead we just cost-shift. We say that the means of living should be free to the poor--which means everyone else has to pay for them for "the poor" or that the cost is shifted down to the future by way of deficit spending.

Or we just try to make certain things free, things that seem really important to us. That means that other goods and services become more expensive so that manufacturers and providers of the "free" items can stay in business. (Also, by the way, making things appear to be free tends to lead to shortages.) Selecting the goods and services on which to exercise the make-believe of "free" can get extremely arbitrary, and that brings us to the Obama administration. Contraception is some kind of holy thing to these leftist extremists. So they declare it free. Free! Free! Free! They even (cough cough) tell us that by this application of the Rose of Gold economic principle, they will save us all money. (Because the existence of people costs money. So the fewer people, the more cost savings to everyone. Isn't that brilliant?) Having once declared it to be free, they work themselves up into a positive lather at anyone who dares to resist this mandate. The mandate itself is now holy, free contraception for all women is an entitlement, and anyone who opposes it is forcing, yes forcing, women not to use contraception.

The ludicrousness of this should be obvious. People do not purchase gasoline or orange juice for me. The world at large does not subsidize the repair of my car for me. I have to purchase those myself, with money which I acquire because I or my bacon-bringing husband have exchanged our own talents for the money with which to purchase gasoline and bacon. No one thinks that the whole surrounding world (or perhaps, especially, my husband's employer, since employers seem somehow to have a special subsidizing responsibility in the eyes of the left) is "coercing" us not to use gasoline or orange juice or not to have our car repaired because they do not purchse them for us and encourage us in the illusion that gasoline, orange juice, and car repair are free.

So the focus on contraceptive products and services is quite arbitrary and could not be extended indefinitely to other goods and services, even other goods and services that most people agree are quite legitimate, that most people use, that many, many people would even say that they need. In fact, the more widespread the use of some item or service, the more economically ruinous it would become to try to apply the Rose of Gold magic to it, because it would burden the rest of the economy tremendously to cost-shift the actual cost of a widely used good or service.

Try to talk this kind of sense to a leftist up in arms that some employers are resisting the Obama mandate, and you will get ab-so-lute-ly nowhere. Try to ask him how it can possibly be that Sally's birth control pills must be free, are an entitlement to her, and that Catholic organizations are thus doing something evil and coercive not to cooperate in buying them for her, and you will not get a sensible answer. You will only get endless repetitions of the same ridiculous claims about theocracy and "forcing everyone to follow the dictates of the Catholic Church" and other nonsense. You simply cannot reason with people.

Part of what has happened is this: The TANSTAAFL principle has been denied for decades and decades in American education, to the point that no one gets it. Even many conservatives, especially many trad-conservatives who don't like to be thought libertarians or libertarian-sympathetic don't get it. So many on both the left and the right accept the pernicious, corrosive, reality-denying principle that if we just really care about something and really recognize its importance and really have good will, we can make it free. In other words, they accept Rose of Gold economics.

Enter the culture wars. The left has its own priorities. It has its own things that it thinks we should really care about, really recognize the importance of, and really show good will by waving the Rose of Gold over. And things that fall into that category are entitlements, you see. And if they are entitlements then you are not a person of good will if you refuse to wave the Rose of Gold over them. You are a bad person. In fact, by withholding the Golden Magic, you are engaging in something like an act of aggression. Hence, you must be punished and squelched out of existence.

Even leftists are not really likely to move us directly to full-bore Communism. So they will just go about arbitrarily engaging in their economic magical thinking, selective Marxism and economic idiocy, on an ad hoc basis for those things that they think are needed exercises in left-wing good will.

The paleo- and distributist and anti-free market social right won't like this, because they won't agree with the socio-sexual goals of the left. I don't say that that is illegitimate. Moral issues certainly come into play here. It would be worse for a leftist regime to make, say, abortions free (or "free") than for it to make orange juice "free." I do say, however, that they should recognize the economic insanity, the reality denial, in the Rose of Gold economics that is at work here.

And they should also recognize that the entitlement mindset encouraged by Rose of Gold economics is a threat to the religious liberty they hold dear.

Nothing is free. Recognize that now, and recalibrate, and try to get a lot of other people to recalibrate, or prepare to have your conscience bulldozed in the name of the entitlement du jour.


Kristor said...

Great post, Lydia. A rant to remember.

Lydia McGrew said...

Thank you, Kristor. That's encouraging.

JohnMcG said...

The testimony of the Georgetown law student that was "banned" from the hearings last night is a good summary of this mindset.

Of course, I'm a man daring to comment on a woman's thoughts on sexual health, so that marks me as a terror, but the entitlement on display is remarkable.

Lydia McGrew said...

Good link, John.

Aside from the moral dimension, one does want to ask a girl like that, playing the violin about women who "have to go without contraception" because of financial hardship--what about condoms! Obviously, if the women she's talking about are trying so hard to get contraception, they don't share the Church's position, so...Condoms are so darned cheap.

If it's just that they don't like condoms, or their husbands don't, well lah-di-dah. Again, it can hardly be a _moral_ objection to condoms, since this is all about agitating for contraception.

I hope this doesn't sound crude, but when one stops to think about it, this is like saying that one has a right to everything, including the specific type of sexual experience one desires, aside from all moral considerations. Except that one's desire for that is then given overwhelming moral weight!

Anonymous said...

Did you even click the link of the Georgetown law student? She was talking about her friend who has ovarian cysts and therefore needs birth control. Not for herself so she can have sex. (just thought I'd point that out)

Lydia McGrew said...

I considered not publishing your comment. That's one of the beautiful things about having full moderation turned on. You don't always have to waste your time sighing and answering wilfully dense comments just because, oh, well, the person wasn't actually profane. But my tolerance for time-wasting is definitely limited, so this is _not_ an invitation to more deliberate denseness.

Yes, I read the Georgetown law student's meandering blatherings. No, she was _not_ simply talking about someone with ovarian cysts. I am not stupid. I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you, too, can read. The testimony was demanding, as an entitlement, that _all_ women who want birth control pills for _all_ reasons and purposes, including contraception, be given them for free. This was explicit in the earlier part of her testimony before she got off on her violin-playing about women with other medical problems.

In fact, her message was that if insurance companies, on behalf of employers with a conscientious objection to contraception, even attempt to verify a medical need, this "sends the wrong message" to women. She was unambiguously treating contraception qua contraception as "women's healthcare" and as a right, necessary to female equality.

Hence, if your pointless point is that my previous comment in this thread was off-topic vis a vis her testimony, you're wrong. Either you're wrong because you are incapable of comprehending her testimony or you're wrong because you're pretending that you're incapable of comprehending her testimony. Take your pick.

And please do not waste more of my time on such a discussion.

JohnMcG said...

The testimony begins and ends with Fluke's personal story.

The ovarian cyst story was second-hand, and Fluke acknowledged that Georgetown policy should have covered the medication because it was for medical reasons.