The larger point (about Obamacare and capitalism)

Mickey Kaus Columnist
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Thanks to Scott Galupo of The American Conservative for making a larger point about Obamacare that often gets lost (and that I forget to make also): In this country, at least, universal health care seems like a social prerequisite for more freedom and market-driven flexibility, not a precursor of less. It’s one thing to take huge risks in a volatile market economy if the downside is you lose your money. It’s another if the downside is you lose your life. People who are secure about preserving the latter are more likely to tolerate big risks regarding the former. That applies not only to swashbuckling entrepreneurs but also to regular workers who are now regularly expected to switch jobs and cities and skills as various industries and enterprises rise and fall. It’s true even if you don’t put a premium the American virtue of social equality–being “equal in the eyes of each other” [Reagan*]–which is itself a type of security that enables risk taking,** and which is powerfully reinforced in a health system (like Medicare) that treats rich and poor with equal respect and competence.***


Universal healthcare is not a limit on capitalism so much as it’s a tradeoff for more capitalism. The process of deregulation and global economic connectivity that began in the late 1970s, which historian Edward Luttwak later dubbed “Turbo-capitalism,” exposed workers to the vicissitudes of market capitalism more than they’d ever been throughout the 20th century.

…  universal healthcare is the tribute the new cosmopolitan elite must pay to fellow citizens who have become radically less secure.


*– “Whether we come from poverty or wealth … we are all equal in the eyes of God. But as Americans that is not enough–we must be equal in the eyes of each other.” Speech to GOP convention, 1992.

**– i.e., if you go broke you can still hold your head up–or, at least, your lack of money won’t prevent you (assuming you keep working).

***– It’s not at all clear this is the system that Obamacare creates–in particular, there’s a certain wonkish brutality with which it consigns the poor and near-poor to the typically second-class state-run Medicaid program. My assumption is that eventually the various income classes will meet on more equal, universal terms–either in the new health care exchanges or a Medicare-like system.

Mickey Kaus