Health Care Reform and the Christmas Candy

One of my many activities over the years has been working for the Laity Ministries Department of the Church of God.  For the last thirteen years (the last four of which as Ministries Coordinator, an Administrative Ministries Council level position) it’s been a rare opportunity for a layman–and one not raised either in the Church of God or even an Evangelical church–to work at the international level of a denomination.

I’ve also been blessed to work with first-rate people, too, most of whom have given up far more remunerative positions in the secular world to work for the church.  But this story is an illustration of both their humanity and of why we are seeing what looks to be, on the surface, one of the strangest political efforts in the history of the Republic–Barack Obama’s health care initiative.

My wife is very frugal, so for her the Christmas shopping season doesn’t start until after Christmas and the sales.  One item whose price tanks quickly after the holiday is Christmas candy, cookies and other food.  So I’ve made it a habit of buying this stuff up at ~75% off, bringing it to the office and putting it out for everyone.  When I first started doing this, there were puzzled looks.  Christmas is over, isn’t it?  But then they found out the obvious: the stuff tastes as good in early January as it does in the middle of December, and if they ate it fast enough spoilage wasn’t an issue.

Now, around every candy-bearing holiday (including Halloween) in the U.S. (and there are many) the office expects candy and other food to appear in its wake.  Last year I made the mistake of overlooking Valentine’s Day, and the office expressed its disappointment that there was no Valentine’s candy out.  So, Lord willing, with the re-opening of the International Offices of the Church of God, there will be Christmas candy for those who help the laity to do God’s work.

Today we have a strange spectacle in our country.  Polls show that most Americans don’t want the health care reform that is being hashed out in Congress by the Democrats.  Yet same Democrats plod onward, making any compromise necessary and buying off any Senator or Representative (to say nothing of the insurance companies or big Pharma) they have to in order to get the thing through.  The result is a massive Rube Goldberg that, to put it bluntly, makes a single-payer system look good.

But the Democrats are relying on the same phenomenon that I experienced with the Christmas candy: once people get over the shock of something new, they’ll not only get accustomed to it, but expect it.  And they’ll be far more insistent about it when it doesn’t appear than the good Christian people I have the privilege to work with.  This expectation will bond the people more tightly to their government, which is the whole end-game of the Democrat Party (which hopes to be the political beneficiary of this bonding.)

Experience with human nature tells us that the strategy should, in the long run, work, which explains why the Republicans are fighting it so hard.  But there are two “bumps in the road” that could throw the whole thing into a ditch.

The first are the short term, transitional effects.  Front-loading the expense of the expansion of health care produces deferred gratification, something Americans notoriously despise.  Coupled with the simple pain of change, the Republicans will make gains in November 2010.  Whether these will produce majorities in either or both houses is a matter of debate.  The senior Democrats (except perhaps Harry Reid,) those in the safe seats, aren’t worried for themselves.  They figure they’ll be there when people riot over any attempt to take away universal coverage, taking the rioters applause.  For them, once this is passed victory will become a waiting game.

But that waiting game will depend upon resolving the second problem: the general ability of our country to afford this social welfare system.  The core problem with health care as a right is that its delivery depends upon the general prosperity of the society, and that prosperity depends in turn upon the society’s productive capacity.  If that productive capacity is impeded by the enormous debt service we’ll be facing, increasing taxation and regulation and the disincentive to work created by guaranteed incomes and benefits, we’ll face a) a servile state where people are forced to work (as Hillare Belloc predicted,) b) the financial collapse of the country or c) (a) followed by (b).

For an initiative whose objective is security for the people, it’s a risky strategy.  But that’s the kind of thinking that we have going in our upper reaches.  They, like most Americans, have never known a country which couldn’t afford anything.  But they, like the rest of us, are about to find out differently.

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