These columns fought the Affordable Care Act from start to passage, and we’d now like to apologize to our readers. It turns out we weren’t nearly critical enough. The law’s implementation is turning into a fiasco for the ages, and this week’s version is the lawless White House decision to delay the law’s insurance mandate for businesses, though not for individuals.
The employer mandate is central to ObamaCare’s claim of providing universal coverage. Companies with 50 or more “employee equivalents” must pay a $2,000 penalty per full-time employee if they don’t provide government-approved health insurance. The provision was supposed to start in January, and delaying it is like Ford saying its electric car is ready to go, except the electric battery doesn’t work.
(Wall Street Journal) What is it with an Executive Branch that won’t defend laws they think, on balance, are unconstitutional (in the sense that they’re not in keeping with current liberal opinion) and won’t enforce a law they fought for as their #1 goal, on the schedule the law calls for? “Lawless” is the right word, methinks.
Of course, it may have had something to do with the decision that implementation would have turned us into a nation of part-timers: “Companies with 50 or more “employee equivalents” must pay a $2,000 penalty per full-time employee if they don’t provide government-approved health insurance.” So, if you have 51 full-time employees, you’d be considering carefully whether you wouldn’t be ahead financially to make that 68 30-hour part-timers – eliminating the penalty per full-timer while assuring that the poor and middle class get screwed again. Juggling three jobs? How’d you like a fourth job just to keep up?
For reasons too complex to go into here (that is, maybe not ready for prime time), I’m not as negative on the ACA as the Wall Street Journal is. But a top-to-bottom revamp of 1/7 of the economy is going to ramify in ways we peons have not begun to imagine.
I was reminded recently of a New York Times column or editorial asking rhetorically “Is the New York Times a Liberal Newspaper?” and answering itself “Of course – but only on the social issues. On everything else, we’re moderate.” [Not a direct quote, but accurate to how the podcaster who reminded me told it and consistent with my memory, too.]
Interesting qualification there. It seems to me that “the social issues” are just about the only issues that remain hotly contested. On everything else, especially the economy, we’re all (with a few exceptions like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren) Gadarene swine, rushing for the cliff together. (Coming soon from Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori: a sermon scolding Jesus for his disrespect for spiritual diversity.) The Cold War’s over, Capitalism won, and of course we all agree now that Communism was horrible and Socialism isn’t much better and, well, that just about exhausts the economic options, doesn’t it?
Well, maybe not …
In “The Lessons of History,” Will and Ariel Durant wrote:
Leave men free and their natural inequalities will multiply almost geometrically, as in England and America in the nineteenth century under laissez-faire. To check the growth of inequality, liberty must be sacrificed, as in Russia after 1917.
Freedom and equality are sworn and everlasting enemies, and when one prevails the other dies.
(Quoted in Patrick J. Buchanan, Égalité in the Land of the Free.)
I’m not so sure about that. I’m not sure leaving men free has been tried except rhetorically. Heck, I’m not sure it can be, in this world, anything but a nostrum. Because some free men will go to the state or national capital and lobby for what sounds like a swell idea – maybe even a freedom-enhancing idea – but which gives them a competitive edge.
For instance, who could be opposed to assuring that our food supply is safe? And wouldn’t requiring pasturization promote that? And don’t you need inspectors to assure that processing is sanitary? And wouldn’t some chemicals in the food, to preserve freshness or this or that, be an obvious boon, so long as there’s no smoking gun on ill health effects?
Well, pretty soon, you’ve got this …
According to an analysis in Forbes by two academics from the University of Kansas and Northern Michigan University, “Just four companies provide us with 79 percent of our beef, 65 percent of our pork, and 57 percent of our poultry. So, no matter what kind of meat we have for dinner, most likely it comes from the same handful of companies: Tyson Foods, JBS, Cargill, Smithfield Foods. You can never decide which bacon to bring home? Armour, Eckrich, Farmland, Gwaltney, John Morrell, Smithfield—all owned by Smithfield Foods …
and this …
On December 1, 2008, officers from the Lorain County Sheriff’s Office, dressed in full tactical armor, arrived at the home of the club’s owners in LaGrange (outside Cleveland) with Lorain County Health Department and Ohio Department of Agriculture inspectors. With weapons drawn and trained on one owner, Jacqueline Stowers, her in-laws, and eight small children Stowers was homeschooling, the officers herded the family into a home living room and kept them under armed guard for about seven hours. The agriculture and health inspectors executed a search warrant, taking cell phones, three computers, business records, and a year’s worth of frozen meat—mostly lamb from the Stowerses’ own herd. Jacqueline’s husband, John Stowers, was out running errands when the raiding party arrived.
The food club’s offense? Failure to obtain a retail license. Jacqueline Stowers told me that at the time she had received notification a year earlier that she needed a license, and when she wrote back to question it based on Manna Storehouse being a private membership organization, she didn’t receive a response—until the raiding party showed up.
The search warrant used by the armed officers was similar to that used for drug dealers, giving the agents permission to confiscate anything on the premises. The affidavit authorizing the warrant cited the Stowerses for operating a retail food establishment without a license, according to the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund. It filed suit against Ohio officials on behalf of the Stowerses, arguing that the search and seizure had been unlawful and the Stowerses denied due process and equal protection. After a number of hearings, a county judge in early 2010 rejected the arguments, ruling that Manna Storehouse was subject to the state’s retail licensing rules because it was a profit-making operation; an appeals court in 2011 upheld the ruling.
(Is There Such A Thing As Private Food?) Tyson , JBS, Cargill and Smithfield likely did not get where they are except by the sorts of laws that led to such jackbootery. It’s now difficult for a small farmer to ethically produce, say, grass-fed beef, with its considerable health advantages over feedlot beef, and get it butchered, processed and delivered to consumers affordably.
That song could be replayed in many keys and many industries, but it’s not in the Top 40, you’ll not find it in high school textbooks, and the college professors who mention it are likely to end up on some sort of ideological hit list.
The best we can hope for, I suspect, is disenthralling the masses that they need jackboots to protect them, and then a regime that bust up trusts zestfully and empowers small capitalists, who will deliver safe products to customers who they have to look in the eye when they sell them. Such a system as Distributism.
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(P.S. We’ll hear today that freedom isn’t free and such. Neither is Wikipedia. Have you contributed? I just did, reminded as I went looking for the Distributism link.)
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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)