by Paul Ryan
hat tip: Imprimis
The following is adapted from a speech delivered on January 13, 2010, in Washington, D.C., at an event sponsored by Hillsdale College’s Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship.
SOMEONE once said that before there was the New Deal, there was the Wisconsin Deal. In my home state, the University of Wisconsin was an early hotbed of progressivism, whose goal was to reorder society along lines other than those of the Constitution. The best known Wisconsin progressive in American politics was Robert LaFollette. “Fighting Bob,” as he was called, was a Republican—as was Theodore Roosevelt, another early progressive. Today we tend to associate progressivism mostly with Democrats, and trace it back to Woodrow Wilson. But it had its roots in both parties.
The social and political programs of the progressives came in on two great waves: the New Deal of the 1930s and the Great Society of the 1960s. Today, President Obama often invokes progressivism and hopes to generate its third great wave of public policy. In thinking about what this would mean, we need look no farther than the health care reform program he is promoting along with the leadership in Congress.
Let me say here at the beginning that even though survey after survey shows that 75 percent or more of Americans are satisfied with the quality of their health care, no one I know in Congress denies that health care reform is needed. Everyone understands that health care in our country has grown needlessly expensive, and that some who want coverage cannot afford it. The ongoing debate over health care, then, is not about whether there should be reform; it is about what the principle of that reform ought to be.
Under the terms of our Constitution, every individual has a right to care for their health, just as they have a right to eat. These rights are integral to our natural right to life—and it is government’s chief purpose to secure our natural rights. But the right to care for one’s health does not imply that government must provide health care, any more than our right to eat, in order to live, requires government to own the farms and raise the crops.
Government’s constitutional obligations in regard to protecting such rights are normally met by establishing the conditions for free markets—markets which historically provide an abundance of goods and services, at an affordable cost, for the largest number. When free markets seem to be failing to meet this goal—and I would argue that the delivery of health care today is an example of where this is the case—government, rather than seeking to supply the need itself, should look to see if its own interventions are the root of the problem, and should make adjustments to unleash competition and choice.