David Leonhardt Flat Out Nails It

Posted by on Dec 15, 2010 in Government, Politics | No Comments

Really a must read essay in today’s New York Times:

We’ve lived through a version of this story before, and not just with Medicare. Nearly every time this country has expanded its social safety net or tried to guarantee civil rights, passionate opposition has followed.

The opposition stems from the tension between two competing traditions in the American economy. One is the laissez-faire tradition that celebrates individuality and risk-taking. The other is the progressive tradition that says people have a right to a minimum standard of living—time off from work, education and the like.

Both traditions have been crucial to creating the most prosperous economy and the largest middle class the world has ever known. Laissez-faire conservatism has helped make the United States a nation of entrepreneurs, while progressivism has helped make prosperity a mass-market phenomenon.

Yet the two traditions have never quite reconciled themselves. In particular, conservatives have often viewed any expansion of government protections as a threat to capitalism.


In truth, the law is quite moderate. It is more conservative than President Bill Clinton’s 1993 plan or President Richard Nixon’s 1974 plan (in which the federal government would have covered anyone who wasn’t insured through an employer). It’s much more conservative than expanding Medicare to cover everyone. It is clearly one of the least radical ways for the United States to end its status as the only rich country with millions and millions of uninsured.

But the law depends to a significant degree on the mandate. Without it, some healthy people will wait to buy coverage until they get sick—which, of course, is not an insurance system at all. It’s free-riding.

I don’t think most folks realize that Social Security, now called the “third rail of politics,” once came under more attacks and legal challenges then health care reform today. The same is true for many social programs that now enjoy support by more than 70 percent of the population. Heck, some might argue (myself being one of them) that the Republicans don’t want Obama’s health care plan to be implemented, cause decades (if not sooner) from now it will be a widely popular government program.

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