What Would Libertarians Do About the Poor Who Cannot Afford Healthcare?

I was asked to answer the question, ” What would Libertarians Do About the Poor Who Cannot Afford Healthcare?”

The question may have been intended as bait for a response which echoed the Libertarian stereotype of callous,  unsympathetic and every-man-for-himself.  As I don’t think that accurately portrays Libertarian thought, I responded this way:

My personal Libertarian philosophy acknowledges the need for a compassionate “safety net” for the genuinely poor who cannot afford healthcare essentials.

We are skeptical, and critical, of the Government’s way of doing so, however.

Libertarian ideals seek to incentivize individuals to make their own healthy lifestyle choices. One unwelcome consequence of Government-run healthcare is that the Government then has (or claims it has) an interest in making rules to regulate the totality of how all people live – what they should eat, how they should exercise, play, have sex, avoid risks of all sorts – because everything, eventually, arguably affects one’s health, which arguably affects the Government’s expense (meaning the expense to other taxpayers).

Not incidentally, the Government has shown itself to be rather inept at making those rules. As the FDA defines “healthy”, as in food, fresh avocados, raw almonds and grilled salmon are not; Frosted Flakes, Spaghetti O’s, Pop-Tarts are. (Hint: The Government’s definition disregards added sugar. It’s now under review, and in a few years the “rulemaking process” will have concluded.) FDA: Frosted Flakes Healthier Than an Avocado

Another unwelcome effect of Government-based healthcare (or other benefits) to the “poor” is that the Government needs to define “poor,” and that leads to judging how people spend their own money. Can one be certified “poor” although one has Cable TV? With or without ESPN? What about broadband, instead of dial-up? If one has pets? How many? If one takes a flight to visit a distant family member? Is Economy OK, Business Class not? These are all discretionary expenses. Libertarians believe that Government should not be so totally intrusive in the lives of a free people – and once it assumed the role of taxing some taxpayers to subsidize others, it can profess a duty to “spend taxpayer money wisely” that has no logical limits.

Libertarian thought favors leaving those personal lifestyle choices to individuals themselves. It trusts in the intelligence and common sense of people to make the choices that are right for them, letting them weigh the consequences for themselves, and take responsibility for their actions – the strongest incentive to make wise choices.

Today’s widespread Government-sponsored welfare rests on an assumption, with which we disagree, that people are too unintelligent, too foolish or too easily “brainwashed” by consumerism advertising, to know what’s in their own best interest, so that they must be perpetual wards of the State (in the person of bureaucrats who make the “right” decisions for them).

Presumably, people so incompetent ought not have the capacity to vote, either. But we would not tolerate Government bureaucrats telling people how to vote. There is no legitimate grounds either for bureaucrats telling them how to live.

As we would rely less on Government, we would rely more on private charity to furnish the necessary safety-net to deserving recipients. We believe most people of adequate means would be more generous once they are unburdened (even in part) of the cost of today’s Government. Once they realize that Government will no longer guarantee the bureaucratic “safety-net,” individuals of goodwill will rise to the occasion to alleviate actual suffering. Private charity, immune from political winds and the constituencies that organize around every Government program, can be more effective than Government in directing resources to where they are actually needed.

In this manner, Libertarians believe that exalting individual liberty and free choice provides the greatest good to the largest number of people, while affording the greatest protection to the least able among us.



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