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The Second Treatise

by on February 9, 2010

Here there is the beginning of the working of a doctrine. Let us address, as many have done before, the purpose and right of government. What do I mean by government? Speaking mainly of our own federalist system, I mean a system in which localities are subject to the laws of states (states being the fifty states), and states are subject to laws of the nation. In an ideal world, the nation, too, is subject to international laws. What do I mean by the purpose of government? The purpose of the government is to act within its rights granted by the constitution. What do I mean by the right of government? Precisely as I just said; the government must act in accordance with the constitution. What it means to be in discord is subject to what law has been broken, and what, if any, prescribed remedy exists.

The government, through its very existence, wields political power. The godfather of American political theory – John Locke – defines political power as,

POLITICAL POWER, then, I take to be a RIGHT of making laws with penalties of death, and consequently all less penalties, for the regulating and preserving of property, and of employing the force of the community, in the execution of such laws, and in the defence of the common-wealth from foreign injury; and all this only for the public good.

There is a timeless debate over what these aspects of political power allow, if these are to be allowed at all. A right of making laws with penalties of death? We allow that, just as we allow “all less penalties.” We leave it to the government to regulate and preserve property; when the government does not regulate property there is a housing bubble crisis that upends even the international economy. The government (in all its entities) have the right – claim the right – to affect all these laws. It is, or was until very recently, that defense of the nation fell solely to the hands of the government.

All of the above actions the government takes, or has a right to take, – should take – for national well-being. Others will tell you, and this is not yet out-of-date, that the role of the government is to provide citizens with all things that they cannot provide themselves. Defense. Right to property. The right to healthy living and health care. In some years from now this debate will seem quite antiquated, just as the right of suffrage has been settled, and the right to an education has been settled, and many other things besides that are provisions of the government. But as of yet, the debate – over the issue of health care – is not settled.

There is a fear, there is always a fear, that the government shall tax too much. But at what point is too much? For what should the government tax? If the purpose of government, constrained by the rights set down in the constitution, is preservation of property and assurance of well-being of citizens, it should be clear that the government should levy taxes only for this; if there is a further purpose of the government, that too may require a tax. By levying taxes the government, especially the federal government, acquires a share of the Gross Domestic Product. That share may be ten percent, or fifteen percent, or twenty-five percent. That will depend on the economy.

Is health care necessary? Currently, there is a system of health care in our country. People with jobs – and there are many without jobs – can buy insurance that allows them health care, unless the insurance company decides not to cover the cost of a claim. The company is entitled to do this. The citizen is entitled to pay insurance to ameliorate the cost of health care, when cost occur. Who is in the right? … That is the mainstay of the system. The government too – and rightly so, according to the purposes of the government laid out above – intervenes in providing citizens with health care. For the poor, making under standard living wages; for the old, who have contributed to the country; to those in need of temporary assistance — to these the government provides aid, including health care. Now the government suggests it improve its role in this function.

Let us assume our system is in accordance with Locke. Would the government be acting in the public good? Yes. Would the government be regulating and protecting property? Yes. Is it a danger that the government will raise taxes to a level that will negate its attempts to improve the provision of health care? That seems counter-productive. Providing the one-sixth of the population who do not currently have any guaranteed form of health care coverage with some form of coverage seems, rather, to allow these fifty million people to become increasingly productive. Is the other fiscal option to pay for the costs of providing health care – lowering spending – an option? Certainly. There are many areas from which spending could, and should, be cut (see, for instance, military operations). Like raising taxes, the result of cutting spending would be a net-positive. A cut in spending on not-necessary projects (necessary projects would include transportation, communication, aiding a recovering housing market) would increase money for health care, which, like raising taxes, would allow citizens to spend money on products besides health care.

The question at hand is, what should the role of the government be in providing and guaranteeing health care? The likely methods of paying for such care – a necessary action – has been described. What would be the role of a state (as opposed to the country)? It is to the states that police powers – health, welfare, and morals – are given. Health is foremost among the police powers. Then, it has to be wondered, why are the states not in charge of comprehensive health care? The can be, could be, and will not be restricted in providing health care if the federal government chooses to develop a national plan. Massachusetts can, and has, passed a state-wide health care coverage plan. Like voting and minimum wage before it, the federal government has a right (indeed, perhaps a duty) to intervene in interstate commerce such as health care.

These thoughts there are on health care. The federal government has a right to guarantee health care. The federal government has various options to pay for health care. The idea is neither novel nor, thus far, successful. The correct method, or whether the idea is correct at all, has not been resolved in debate or in legislation. To reject the notion of health care, while proclaiming to be in favor of a Lockean government, however, is thus far foolish.

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From → Politics, US Politics

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