Monday, July 21, 2008

Groveling and Pandering

Last Friday I attended a Congressional hearing on universal health care and a bill introduced in the United States House of Representatives (HR676). The hearing was led by Sheila Jackson Lee and consisted of 2 panels of witnesses explaining the alleged need for universal health care. The witnesses were health care professionals, a union official, and an activist. While the topic does not directly pertain to land use, the proceedings were illuminating. See Gus van Horn for an excellent commentary on this farce.

The participants were unanimously in favor of universal health care. Individually their testimony took one of two different paths.

The first path was one of overwhelming praise for the bill and its authors. America’s health care system is in crisis, the witnesses said, and HR676 will address it. This was nothing more than blatant pandering to the egos of the politicians who were present. One in fact, pointed out that Lee was an excellent leader of a Boy Scout troop.

The second path was even more disgusting. While praising the bill, these witnesses said that it didn’t go far enough. We need more money for training nurses, for mental health care, and for a number of other areas. These groveling witnesses wanted more for their particular pet projects. They weren't content to merely praise Lee and her cohorts, they wanted more public money thrown into their trough.

This process is not unusual when politicians intervene in the economy and our lives. Economic intervention—including land use restrictions— benefits some at the expense of others. Those who will benefit pander to the politicians by singing their praises. Those who seek to increase their benefits and/ or power grovel for further intervention.

This is not limited to health care. Indeed, it is the process that invariably develops when government intervenes in the economy. Those who will benefit seek to curry favor with politicians. And those who will be harmed seek counter-measures to reduce the harm, or shift the harm to other individuals.

The unstated premise underlying this process is that government may legitimately intervene in the economy. That some individuals will be victimized (and not in the pathetic, meaningless sense the term is usually used) is accepted as a given. The only debate is over who will benefit and who will be harmed, who will sacrifice and who will collect the sacrifices.

But the truth is, everyone is harmed by such interventions. The benefits arbitrarily awarded by these politicians can just as easily be arbitrarily removed when the political winds shift. More fundamentally, when one advocates violating the rights of others, one simultaneously accepts the violation of his own rights.

This is the process that arose when Houston last considered zoning in the 1990’s. Across the city battles erupted over zoning designations for particular property. Neighbors fought neighbors over land only one, or neither, owned. Various groups formed, each pushing its particular vision and seeking to use the political process to impose that vision on the rest of the city. Having accepted the premise someone’s rights would be violated, their only recourse was to gang together to make others the victims.

Human beings are not sacrificial animals whose lives can be disposed of by politicians or noisy gangs. Each individual has a moral right to his own life, and the freedom to pursue his own happiness. This is true in health care, and it is true in land use.

© J. Brian Phillips 2008

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