02 April 2013

Jack-booted Insurance-bringing Thugs

Paul Krugman:


Jonathan Chait and Aaron Carroll both have fun with Elizabeth Cheney‘s bonkers op-ed about how Obamacare will destroy our freedom.

As both note, the stirring quote from Ronald Reagan the younger Vader uses comes from the recording he made for Operation Coffee Cup, a 1961 project organized by the AMA to mobilize doctors’ wives and their friends against the looming horror of Medicare, which would clearly turn American into a totalitarian state.

However, neither Chair nor Carroll mention what seems to me to be an obvious parallel, which is with the whole Hayekian notion that the welfare state sets us on the slippery slope to Stalinism. Yes, I’m aware that defenders of Hayek claim that this wasn’t what he said — but as far as I can tell their argument is very weak, and anyway more or less irrelevant to the role Hayek plays in American political discourse. Even if that isn’t what Hayek meant to say (in which case, what exactly was his point?), it’s the message American conservatives chose to take from his work.

And with Hayek, as with Reagan, the truly amazing thing is that we have people citing as a source of wisdom someone who has been as thoroughly refuted by history as anyone can be. Three generations into the modern welfare state, and western democracies look less Stalinist than ever.

Of course, you can still say that social insurance destroys freedom if you define freedom as the absence of social insurance — which isn’t quite what these guys are doing, but may capture the spirit of the thing.