Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Forgotten Man

I was reflecting on the Health Care debate recently and thought back to something I read a few weeks back about the tax burden of different income classes. For 2007 in the U.S., the top 1% of income earners paid more in taxes than the bottom 95% (ht: Mark Perry). This really shows how much more progressive our tax system is than people, and this during a year when Bush was still president.

Whether one thinks this is for the best or for the best, it certainly has some profound implications for current health care debate. The current health care proposal being debated is estimated by the CBO to cost over 1 trillion dollars in ten years, which is almost surely an underestimate. Who is going to be paying for such an expensive program. Primarily it'll be the top few percentage points of income earners, with the highest percentage pulling the bulk of the weight and steadily decreasing burdens downward. In fact, roughly the bottom 40% of income earners pay no federal income tax at all (the Tax Policy Center estimates 43.4% for 2009) and thus will contribute nothing to this program. Surely there are people in the top few percentage points who completely support this program. But ultimately, since few Americans are in these higher tax brackets, what is being called for by most American is an expensive reform that someone else will pay for. For most Americans supporting this reform, the brunt of the financial burden will fall on them. What most Americans want is not in fact to help those who have been left behind by the current system, but to force others to help them. One could think of no better example of Sumner's "Forgotten Man" than this.

Michael F. Cannon at Cato posted a piece by his his father connecting the parable of the good Samaritan to health policy (cf Luke 10:30-35), which I think gives us a good moral example. Support for the health care policy is not comparable to being the good Samaritan. It'd be more comparable to the Priest and the Levite asking a Roman legionnaire to force the Samaritan to help the abused traveler, with the good Samaritan being the top income earners. There's nothing really morally admirable about this.

If there are probably well over a hundred millions of Americans willing to support the current health care proposal then that sounds like ample numbers of people who if they actually went out and helped the some 10 or 15 million odd Americans (or perhaps less) who can't get but need insurance, the problem could be solved. If they don't have time to help these people, then surely they could find or found charities that support the poor who are in need of health care but who aren't covered by Medicaid. Support for health care policy rather than actually helping people seems rather an avoidance of moral responsibility rather than anything actually virtuous.

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