The Unmentioned Costs of Freedom

A federal judge in Virginia has declared a section of the recently passed healthcare law unconstitutional.  That section, which would not have taken effect until 2014, is the one that requires individuals to purchase health insurance or to pay various tax penalties.  While there’s little doubt that the question will go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, I would not be surprised to see this ruling upheld, because there’s a vast difference in law, and in practice, between requiring individuals NOT to do something “bad,” and in requiring them to take an affirmative action at their own expense – or pay a penalty for not spending money as required by the federal government.

This distinction can be a very fine line, but it still exists.  For example, car manufacturers are required to incorporate costly safety features in their new cars, but no consumer is required to buy a new car.  Manufacturing companies are required to meet standards for safety and emissions, but no corporation is mandated to build a new plant to produce widgets, etc.

The problem with a democratic system is that our freedoms often exact costs, and often those costs fall on others in one way or another.  One example of this in health care hits fairly close to home – my home.  My wife is a professor of voice, and she teaches college students.  Over the last 18 years, never has she had a year when she has not been confronted with sick and contagious students, as well as some with severe throat, sinus, or lung problems, who have no health insurance because neither they nor their parents have such insurance.  Not only do these students often infect others, but at times, their lack of insurance threatens their own permanent well-being.  More times than I want to count, my wife has paid for visits to doctors, and she has negotiated special rates with specialists for certain tests and procedures for her students. In the vast majority of cases, these students or their parents, and it is usually their parents’ doing, have made the choice of not paying for health insurance.  But there is a cost, either in time lost from work or studies [and lower grades, possibly even resulting in the loss of a scholarship], in overall health, and in the costs imposed or assumed by others.  One of the largest costs in the health care area is that of emergency room costs.

The health care area is just one example. Another is our presumption of innocence.  Under our system of justice, someone arrested or charged with a crime is presumed innocent.  That presumption results in literally billions of dollars being spent to prove guilt and convict presumed criminals, many of whom escape punishment not because they are innocent, but because they had better lawyers.

Another area is child welfare.  Because we choose not to send poor families to poorhouses and debtors’ prisons, but to allow them freedom, we end up paying significant sums to welfare mothers and others, and subsidizing food – largely in the hope that at least some of it will get to children – rather than taking the children and letting their parents fend for themselves.

Yet another is the freedom of movement.  We allow people great freedom to own vehicles, to operate them at high rates of speed, and even presume that they will do so sensibly.  We also combine that freedom with that of drinking.  This “combination” of freedoms costs more than 40,000 lives annually, and billions in damages and destruction.

The last freedom we provide in the United States is simple.  In allowing people the freedom to innovate and to be successful, we also allow most people the freedom to make enough bad choices to hurt, if not destroy, themselves.

Am I suggesting a more totalitarian approach and an adoption of the Napoleonic Legal Code?  Heavens, no!  But what I am suggesting is that there are real and measurable costs to “freedom,” restricted as some think it now is, and that it is anything but “free,” and part of those costs are included in our taxes, in our insurance bills, and in the costs of the goods we buy… as well in human suffering and tragedy.

2 thoughts on “The Unmentioned Costs of Freedom”

  1. Jon Moss says:

    My daughter is a student of vocal performance at UNT in Denton, Texas. She has asthma. I have health insurance that covers her and her medications until she’s 25. After that, I’m concerned, frankly scared. If she pursues her ‘dream’ and acquires a master’s degree or doctorate in vocal pedagogy, she will most likely still be in school past the age of 25. But what sort of health insurance can she afford or is offered through the universities she might be employed by? Without her medications, her breathing, etc. suffers and, of course, so does her vocal performance.

    I’m very aware of the cost of all my freedoms, and the burden is often more than I can bear.

  2. Laird says:

    Health care will not prevent infectious students.
    Responsible action will *reduce* the incidence of infectious students, but again, will not prevent them – Even responsible action falls before circumstance.

    Responsibility is the cost of Freedom. Many do not these days exercise responsible action, nor are they willing (or in many cases, able) to bear the costs of responsible action. So increases the tendency of society to treat them (and by inevitable extension, those whom *are* responsible, too) as children. Hence, the ever-increasing intrusion of government into people’s lives. The ironic aspect of this infantilization of society is that it creates a regenerative (or DEgenerative, in this case) cycle, leading to still fewer citizens trained, willing, and able to exercise responsibility.

    Or, in other words, a vicious spiral towards nanny-state. If people will not exercise responsibility, they will inevitably lose their freedoms. And you can’t blame the state for this – concentrating power is what governments *do.* If we do not use our own power properly, we can hardly blame the government for picking it up and using it as it sees fit.

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