Putting Our Free Speech Rights in the Subjunctive

Yes, we all know that the White House “should” retract insurance industry threats:

Everybody loves to hate health insurance companies. Who doesn’t have their favourite story about arbitrarily denied claims and, especially these days, excessive premiums?

So why would anyone care about their free-speech rights? You should, if you care about your own free-speech rights.

The issue came up when Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius issued a stern warning to the insurance industry in response to certain companies supposedly advising policy-holders that premiums would increase because of the enactment of Obamacare. In her letter, Sebelius wrote:

There will be zero tolerance for this type of misinformation and unjustified rate increases. We will not stand idly by as insurers blame their premium hikes and increased profits on the requirement that they provide consumers with basic protections.

She also warned that errant insurers would be barred from participation in the health exchanges, which will service individuals and small groups starting in 2014.

Whatever your view of or experience with the insurance industry, this kind of threat should alarm all of us. While some have characterized these threats as “thuggish” or “nasty stuff,” their offensive nature is not the issue. Their impact on freedom of expression is.

Americans have always considered their rights–especially the one of free speech–as “inalienable.”  And why not: after all, it’s in our fundamental national document, isn’t it?  Isn’t that why we make such a big deal of “rights?”  Because they’re important and legally enforceable?

Well, in reality the extent to which rights can be defended depends upon the recourse we have when they’re violated.  If we live in a country whose economic system is dispersed, our recourse is better because our ability to sustain ourselves through the process is easier.  But when wealth and its disbursement is centralised, then our rights are compromised by our economic dependence.

Put in terms more people can understand, we all know we don’t formally give up our constitutional right to free speech in the workplace.  But we also know that we have to be careful about what we say–especially if it regards our boss, the company, and to some extent our coworkers–because our employer sends us money every now and then for what we do, and if they’re displeased about our actions, that cash flow can stop.  It’s the same with centralised health care: as long as the federal government basically holds all of the cards, they can deprive insurance companies of cash flow and thus exercise some control over what they say.

In a system of state socialism, when government controls the entire economy (in theory at least,) their control over people is nominally absolute, no matter what their constitutions say.  People who spoke out could find themselves unemployable in a hurry.

That’s the extreme example, but hopefully you get the idea.  The more economic centralisation we have, the more our rights will be in the subjunctive rather than the indicative, where they belong.

One thought on “Putting Our Free Speech Rights in the Subjunctive”

  1. Sebelius is a public officer who threatened an official punitive act against certain speech.

    That is not subtle. It is a naked violation of the black letter first amendment. She must be impeached and barred from ever holding public office again.

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