August 16, 1999
A flood of bills of rights
Pols hide power-grab agendas behind images of liberty
There are few weapons in the battle over culture as devious as the misappropriation of words and phrases. In the kind of twisted logic only an Orwellian character could truly appreciate, liberty means slavery, freedom becomes dependence, and volunteerism is compulsion.
The latest in this trend among the politically savvy is the use of the adjective phrase "Bill of Rights." Every imaginable cause or group has seen a "Bill of Rights" proposed to support it these days: children, patients, airline travelers and so on.
Obviously the phrase is meant to stir patriotic emotions, legitimizing whatever the legislative agenda might be by word association.
Without fail, these new "Bill of Rights" programs are not just cute ploys to garner attention, they strike at the core of what is wrong with the way so many in Congress go about their business. One has to raise the question: What's wrong with the existing Bill of Rights, those original Ten Amendments to the Constitution, that a new one must be created to assuage every group, complaint or situation?
The answer is simple. The problem with the Bill of Rights is that it restricts the power of the federal government while ensuring maximum liberty for the individual. This is a problem for those who see government as the panacea to every ill, the protector of all that is good. While the Bill of Rights limits government, liberates the market and empowers the individual, these initiatives inevitably anoint government with greater power, restrict the rights of the individual and shackle the market.
We should be suspicious when it is declared we need a new "Bill of Rights." If Congress were interested in protecting the rights of individuals (whether as taxpayers, patients or travelers), then it should adhere to the principles so clearly defined in the original Bill of Rights.
Perhaps, though, that is the problem; the idea that principles should guide our actions is anathema to many. Or, more likely, it is that many in elected office reject the principles of individual liberty and limited government, believing instead that government knows best.
If over the last fifty years we would have had more respect for the Bill of Rights, property rights, voluntary contracts, state jurisdiction and free markets, we would not have the mess we’re facing today in medical care and a host of other issues.
Economic principles determine efficiency of markets, even the medical market; but not our emotional experiences. As a physician, I know that the most efficient manner to deliver medical services, as it is with goods and other services, is determined by the degree to which the market is allowed to operate.
Contrary to the claims of advocates for increased government regulation of health care, the problems we face do not represent market failure, but rather the failure of government policies that have destroyed the health-care market. While it appears on the surface that the interest of the patient is in conflict with the insurance companies and the Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs), in a free market this cannot happen. But when one side is given a legislative advantage in an artificial system, as with managed care, merely making an effort to balance government dictated advantages between patients and HMOs is impossible. The differences cannot be reconciled by more government mandates; because we are trying to patch an unworkable system, the impasse in Congress over this -- or any such issue -- should not be a surprise.
And make no doubt about it: the veritable avalanche of "Bill of Rights" packages before Congress represent more mandates, more government control and fewer liberties for everyone. That they mask their agendas with the phrases of liberty is both deceitful and comforting. Deceitful for obvious reasons; comforting because it reflects an understanding that -- despite our many problems -- Americans remain rightly suspicious of government power and desirous of liberty.