Rand Paul thinks universal health care involves slavery:
“With regard to the idea of whether you have a right to healthcare, you have to realize what that implies. It’s not an abstraction. I’m a physician. That means you have a right to come to my house and conscript me…It means you believe in slavery. It means that you’re going to enslave not only me, but the janitor at my hospital, the person who cleans my office, the assistants who work in my office, the nurses…If I’m a physician in your community and you say you have a right to healthcare, you have a right to beat down my door with the police, escort me away and force me to take care of you? That’s ultimately what the right to free healthcare would be.” (Source here; video here)
Some libertarians seem to agree, and are happy to see someone in the Senate finally speaking truth to power. Reason’s Matt Welch, on the other hand, and libertarian fellow-traveler Andrew Sullivan, think the argument is, well, problematic.
Count me on the side of those who think Paul’s argument is a bad one, both philosophically and rhetorically.
Rhetorically, I strongly suspect that the argument is unlikely to convince anyone who is not already a committed libertarian. And philosophically, of course, it’s just not true that universal health care involves anything like slavery, even if it (like slavery) is morally wrong, and even if it (like slavery) is wrong largely because of the coercive nature of the practice. However wrongful and coercive universal health care might be, no one’s advocating beating down doctor’s doors and hauling them away, no one’s advocating that they be bought and sold or separated from their families or…well, this is really too obvious, isn’t it? There’s a pretty good case to be made that the military draft was a form of slavery. But not everything of which libertarians disapprove warrants that reproach.
As awful as the metaphor may be, though, there’s a good reason that libertarians are attracted to these kinds of arguments. Libertarianism purports to make a radical critique of contemporary society, and part of what is involved in that critique is showing that surface appearances mask a deeper underlying moral reality. Taxation looks different than theft. But, libertarians argue, that appearance is deceiving. The fact that taxation is enacted by a government in accordance with written laws is, libertarians think, morally irrelevant. There are distinctions, of course, between taxation and armed robbery, but they are not distinctions that make much of a moral difference. [Nozick’s famous claim that taxation is “morally on a par with forced labor” seems, in my view, much more difficult to defend]
This just isn’t the case with universal health care and slavery. Again, I’m willing to grant that both are morally wrong. But the weight and scope of the moral reasons that justify the condemnation of one are just nothing like those that justify the condemnation of the other. Coercion is bad, yes, but only an ideology could blind one to the fact that it comes in degrees. Wrestling you to the ground is not like shooting you in the gut. Increasing the marginal tax rate from 45% to 50% is not like sending someone to jail for smoking marijuana. Not in the harm that it imposes on its victim; not in the weight and range of moral constraints that count against the violation; and not in the nature of the facts that one would have to stipulate in order to make it justifiable.
But still, perhaps it’s inevitable that politicians are going to badly over-simplify moral arguments. And I suppose that if I had to choose, I’d much rather have a Senator who over-simplified in the direction of Murray Rothbard than, for instance, whatever moral philosopher Al Franken is butchering.