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A Morally Repugnant Policy

Here’s a letter to the New York Times:

Arguing for Obamacare, Nicholas Kristof asserts that it is “morally repugnant” for government not to guarantee everyone health insurance (“A Possibly Fatal Mistake,” Oct. 14).

Amazingly, Mr. Kristof rests his argument on the experience of his college friend, Scott Androes, who voluntarily put himself into a position that made health insurance quite costly and who was later diagnosed with cancer.  Here’s Mr. Androes: “It all started in December 2003 when I quit my job as a pension consultant in a fit of midlife crisis.  For the next year I did little besides read books I’d always wanted to read and play poker in the local card rooms.  I didn’t buy health insurance because I knew it would be really expensive in the individual policy market….  I knew I was taking a big risk without insurance, but I was foolish.”

I pity Mr. Androes for learning in such a harsh way that choices have consequences.  But contrary to Mr. Kristof’s assertion, taxpayers are not morally obliged to subsidize irresponsible choices of the sort made by Mr. Androes.  Quite the opposite.  As NYU’s Jonathan Haidt writes, “Morality is, in large part, a solution to the free rider problem.”*  So what is genuinely morally repugnant is a policy, such as Obamacare, that – by further collectivizing the costs of health-care choices – undermines personal responsibility and, thereby, encourages free-riding.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

* Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind (New York: Pantheon Books, 2012), p. 349.