The health care bill passed on Sunday, March 21st, 2010. A historic moment. It will be interesting to observe its consequences in the next decade, a potential gold mine for economists.
On the following Monday I had a lunch conversation with a colleague, and the issue of health care was briefly brought up. My colleague said that he just could not understand why anybody could have opposed the bill, why anybody would think that universal health care could be a bad thing. I was quite surprise by that statement, coming from a highly educated intellectual. Because nobody thought that universal health care was a bad thing, in the sense that it was morally unjustified. People opposed it for economical reasons. People opposed it because they had not been convinced that the benefit to the nation would outweigh the economic cost. My colleague's comment just made me realize that some supporters of the health care bill had only been considering the bill on moral righteousness, not on economical feasibility.
When I pass by a homeless person on the street, I also feel the moral obligation to help. Everyone should be entitled to a roof over the head, as much as everyone should be entitled to care in sickness. But there is no legislation for universal housing.
New York City has aggressively cut its subway services. Now I often wait twice as long for a train as before. No one could have thought that cutting subway service was a good thing. But sometimes it is the fiscally responsible thing to do. Policy making is not so much about doing the morally right as about setting the right priorities, and investing the resource where it will benefit the society the most.
There are many things that should be deemed universal rights, the "good things", but in reality are not available to everyone, for the simple reason that there is not enough of it to share. It seems strange to me that some legislators are arguing the health care bill on the moral ground: "If you think it is right, you gotta help us finish the fight." That seems like sports trash talk, not a cool headed argument. The morally correct is not always economically right.
If anything, better education for everyone makes more sense than health care for everyone. After all, people don't fall sick often, and most minor ailments heal by themselves. Poor education, on the other hand, hurts a person for life, day in, day out. A better education is not only essential to maintain United States' competitive edge, but it will also better equip the Americans to evaluate the legislative bills more rationally, instead of being swayed by politicians' hot-headed rhetorics.
I kept wondering: if universal health care was such an obviously good thing, why was Massachusetts the only state in the nation that independently enacted it? Why did all the other states choose not to follow suit on their own and enact their own universal health care for their state citizens?
Even if we limit the debate entirely to the moral ground, I cannot fully justify universal health care, since it is not truly universal health care, but only health care for AMERICANS! Majority of the world's population live in poverty and do not have access to many basic life's needs. I personally detest any entitlement from a privileged birth, even though I accept it as a fact of life. But please do not use it as the basis of a moral argument. It is plain hypocrisy!
Obama called the passing of the bill "what change looks like". I am very disappointed. What Obama promised on his campaign was bipartisan politics. What I expected to see was a pragmatic approach to tackling the nation's most urgent problems, not the old ideological bigotry. The health care bill was passed without a single Republican vote. It was passed not because it was resoundingly convincing to the majority, but through insidious political manouvres that would surely anger its opponents and further divide this nation. If this is what change looks like, it is not the kind that I can believe in.