“I vote for Democrats for one primary reason. They raise taxes on the rich.”
So says Michael Sean Winters at In All Things, the blog of the contributors to America Magazine. Of course, most Americans, perhaps even Mr. Winter, generally need excuses to raise taxes on the rich. The hottest reason at the moment is to pay for universal health care coverage. Winter likes this reason. If passed, he says that it will be the “first outstanding example of a policy that reflects Benedict’s call for a more just society,” a slight departure from his predictions at In All Things back on November 25, when he said that the now-accomplished bailouts of the Big Three automakers and the passage of an economic “stimulus” bill would help “strike a more just balance in society.”
But I digress.
Winter believes that the way to promote “social justice” includes taxing the super-rich, which he defines as “families making more than $350,000 per annum” in order to establish a new federally-controlled health care system. The good news for medical students is that you, too, can be super-rich. The bad news for Winter is that there are far more reasons to oppose universal health care and cranking up taxes on well-off Americans than just the need to “put off buying that bigger boat for a month, or doing the repairs on the Condo in the mountains” and the desire to “keep the abortion funding out of the (health care) bill.”
For example, Winter acknowledges that some on the Right will “rant that the proposal will stifle investment,” before he dismisses it as “an argument that only an academic can make.” Right he is. Only an academic would argue that Winter is wrong in saying that higher taxes could not possibly reduce investment because “whatever happens between you and the tax man, you will make investments that will earn you more income to begin with.” An academic, or someone with money in the stock market who has ever been forced to make choices after Tax Day. Regardless of their merit in any given case, higher taxes reduce investment. That is not some partisan talking point. It is the fact that people cannot put as much money in bank accounts or the stock market when the government takes money away from them. If Winter really wants to take up to $54,000 more in taxes out of the hands of as many as 6 million Americans, he better expect less investment.
Even setting costs aside, there are serious reasons that Catholics should oppose national universal health care proposals. As Winter himself notes, “Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate argued explicitly that financial decisions, both by individuals and by governments, must reflect sound ethical norms and promote social justice.” One of the foundational principles of Catholic social teaching is subsidiarity, the idea that decisions should be left to the smallest competent authority. In American politics, that means municipalities, followed by counties, then states. The federal government should only deal with an issue if it proves too big for any of these lower authorities to handle. Subsidiarity also says that decisions should be kept out of the hands of government any time that markets or families can do things better, which is why John Paul II’s social encyclical Centesimus Annus praised the role that personal and economic freedom play in human development.
Any efforts at health care reform that conform with Catholic social teaching will need to embody subsidiarity and not lead America nearer to the “all-encompassing welfare state” that Caritas in Veritate condemns for stifling individual responsibility and wearing away the dignity of the poor. If we genuinely want to help the poor get health care and not simply make the 5 percent of Americans who pay 59 percent of our taxes pay more, then we should look elsewhere than Medicare and Medicaid for inspiration.
Generally speaking, private providers have done a rather remarkable job of providing high-quality health care coverage to Americans. Less than 15 percent of Americans go for an entire year without health insurance. Americans have more access to cutting-edge medical technology than Europeans. Wait times for essential treatments are much shorter in America than in other countries.
Where there have been inefficiencies and excessive prices, these may be due to too much bureaucracy. It was the federal government, after all, that set up the employer-based health care system that we have now, which blocks people from accessing affordable coverage whenever they lack steady employment. As a substitute for encouraging markets to provide insurance, Medicare and Medicaid, neither of which could qualify as conforming to the principle of subsidiarity, impose one-size-fits-all planning on nearly every aspect of American health care, much to the detriment of competition and innovation. The government also effectively created the HMO system, which has put red tape and overhead costs between Americans and the health care they need.
Winter may never agree, largely because it would stop us from having a new reason to soak the rich, but cutting back on the restrictions that government places on innovative solutions for health care and scrapping the bureaucracy we have in place now makes far more sense than setting up more agencies and public programs. For those who still genuinely cannot afford health insurance, the government could always offer subsidies redeemable on the open market, as we already do with food and housing.
Empowering the poor and giving them responsibility, rather than creating more redistribution for the sake of redistribution, is a great way to honor the ideal of social justice. Getting giddy over the possibility of the government controlling more of our money and decisions is not.