“When does regulating a person’s habits in the name of good health become our moral and social duty?” Dr. David Agus asks in a New York Times op ed. The answer, says Agus, is “when all of us are stuck paying for one another’s medical bills (which is what we do now, by way of Medicare, Medicaid and other taxpayer-financed health care programs).”
In other words, one of the costs of Obamacare and other government health assistance is that we lose our freedom to eat what we want and behave how we like. Agus uses this reasoning to argue that, just as we require people to use seat belts when they drive on public roads, we should require that most men over 45 and women over 55 take a daily dose of aspirin.
The gentle readers of the New York Times respond mainly by arguing that not everyone would benefit from taking aspirin or that some other treatment should be mandated as well. Out of 107 comments, fewer than a half dozen mention that Agus’ reasoning takes away people’s freedom.
Of course, this reasoning has been used before to impose bans and/or higher taxes on sugary or fatty foods and drinks. Agus’ twist is to mandate certain behaviors rather than ban them, but either way is a loss of freedom.
Agus does say that such steps should be taken only “when the scientific data clearly and overwhelmingly demonstrate that one behavior or another can substantially reduce–or, conversely, raise–a person’s risk of disease.” But all too often political decisions are more about popularity contests than scientific data (e.g., streetcars). Once you decide to allow the political system to make decisions for people, you end up accepting all of its failings.
The Antiplanner enjoys freedom to choose, but unlike some libertarians I don’t believe freedom is an end in itself. Instead, it is a means to other ends, including a growing economy, healthy society, and happier individuals. Those who want to reduce our freedom of choice in our own best interest fail to see the huge costs from that loss of freedom.