“The Constitution as interpreted by the Court these past decades allows the federal government to put your taxes up and use the proceeds to send you a weekly box of broccoli.” This putatively commonsensical observation by Clive Crook is meant to support a transparent non sequitur: “If Washington instructed you to choose your own basket of fruit and vegetables or else pay a penalty, that would be a smaller infringement of your freedom than the Constitution already allows.” The logically warranted conclusion from the premiss at hand is that if a federal government’s individual mandate instructed me to choose my own basket of fruit and vegetables or else pay a penalty, that would be a smaller infringement of my freedom than recent Constitutional interpretation has tended to allow. The Constitution is an enduring factual body of principle that underlies the vagaries and wambles of its judicial interpretation. Let the trends change as long as the fundamental facts endure.
Yes, Mr Crook, our Constitution is a quasi-religious document, whose constancy is an inviolable national myth. But the constancy of our Constitution is also thoroughly attested, in extent and limitation, by its amendments. When changing it falls to the Court and is done by stealth, it becomes and remains liable to equally stealthy judicial reversals. That is what the Roberts Supreme Court seems to be poised to inflict upon Obamacare. Back in the realm of horticulture, American farmers have long received lavish subsidies from the government, enabling them to grow lots of things I don’t want to eat. So I am always already being forced to “buy” broccoli via the power of taxation. Likewise, the federal government could — and bloody well should — use its power of taxation to pay for government-administered universal health insurance. What it cannot and shouldn’t do is create a boondoggle for its favorite industries by compelling its citizens to transact with private vendors, be it for health insurance or fresh vegetables.
If there were ever going to be a serious and sustained theoretical challenge to the hegemony of capitalism inside economics — a serious and sustained challenge subsequent to the one provided by what used to be called ‘actually existing socialisms’ — you’d have thought one would have come along since the near terminal meltdown of the global economic system in 2008. But all we’ve seen are suggestions for ameliorative tweaking of the existing system to make it a little less risky. We have at the moment this monstrous hybrid, state capitalism — a term which used to be a favourite of the Socialist Workers Party in describing the Soviet Union, and which only a few weeks ago was on the cover of the Economist to describe the current economic condition of most of the world. This is a parody of economic order, in which the general public bears all the risks and the financial sector takes all the rewards — an extraordinarily pure form of what used to be called ‘socialism for the rich’. But ‘socialism for the rich’ was supposed to be a joke. The truth is that it is now genuinely the way the global economy is working.
Obamacare is socialism for insurance companies. If and when our society agrees that health care is a public good, let us socialize its administration. Empowering our government to bring the health insurance industry 32 million new customers is crony capitalism at its sleaziest. And it stinks.