by Steve Palmer

I don’t know if there are any values which are common to most Pennsylvanians, but if we want to look for some, the state motto seems like as good a place to start as any.  “Virtue, Liberty and Independence” was first used on a Coat of Arms designed by Caleb Lownes for Pennsylvania in 1778.  In this article, without delving into specifics, we will look at the idea of federally administered health care in the context of the the values expressed in Pennsylvania’s state motto.


“…If virtue and knowledge are diffused among the people, they will never be enslaved. This will be their great security…” , Samuel Adams

Let us look, first, at health care assistance as a two person transaction.  If I have wealth and my neighbor lacks it through no fault of his own, is it virtuous for me to give some of my wealth to my neighbor in order to assist him with paying for his health care?  Conveniently, we have a way of measuring wealth, so we know exactly how much harm is done and how much help is given.  I am harmed by as many dollars as I choose to gift to my neighbor.  He is helped by exactly the same amount.  Because my harm is accepted of my own free will, in exchange for the benefit of knowing that I have helped my neighbor to improve his station, it seems clear to me that this would be a virtuous transaction.

Now, we extend the transaction.  This time, my neighbor sees a man in need of health care passing by our homes.  My neighbor lacks the means to help, so he comes to my house and takes money from me, without my consent, to help the passer-by. Just as in the previous transaction, the amount of harm to me is exactly equal to the amount of help to the beneficiary, but since my action was compelled, I am deprived of the opportunity to be virtuous.  Further, since my neighbor has taken my property without my permission, his portion of the transaction is also lacking in virtue, no matter what he might claim about the nobility of his intentions.

Now, let us extend the scenario once more, replacing my neighbor with my home-owners’ association.  Additionally, let us assume that the home-owners’ takes a 10% processing fee out of the amount they take from me and give the passer-by only 90% of the total.  The alleged help to the beneficiary is now smaller than the amount of harm done to the donor.

At this point, we have a complete model. We can add local, state and federal governments, more donors and more recipients, without changing the basic outcome. When money is being funneled and skimmed by a central authority, the harm done to the donors necessarily exceeds the help given to the beneficiaries. This is clearly a net harmful transaction, not a virtuous one.

Additionally, for these transactions, there is another, unseen party who we have not considered. For each transaction, there is an opportunity cost. To what virtuous cause could that money have been put if it had not been given to the recipient? The unseen beneficiary is deprived of an outcome, and the donor is deprived of an opportunity to be virtuous.   These days, we talk about seniors being forced to choose between food and prescriptions.  Soon, we will talk, instead, about young parents being forced to forego braces and clothing for their children in order to meet their health care mandate.


“It is certain that the most natural and human government is that of consent, for that binds freely, … when men hold their liberty by true obedience to rules of their own making. “, William Penn

We have seen that despite it’s proponents’ claims, a government funded health care program is on balance harmful to virtue, not helpful.  Moving on, is anyone’s liberty enhanced by a federal health care solution?  It is clear that compelling a donor to part with his money does not enhance his liberty in any way.  His action is coerced and resources which he might have used are made unavailable to him.

So if there is to be an improvement in Liberty, it must come on the part of either the beneficiary or of the administrator.

Let us start with the beneficiary.  Malthus wrote, in his famous Essay on the Principle of Population

“It may at first appear strange, but I believe it is true, that I cannot by means of money raise a poor man and enable him to live much better than he did before, without proportionably depressing others in the same class”.

I think an example of the effect he was getting at is this — In a market, if we could manage to find every person who has only ten dollars and give them each a hundred dollars instead, the market would adjust.  Ten dollar items that this group of people compete for would go up in price to one hundred dollars.  In fact, we already see this effect at work in health care and education.  Surely it is not a coincidence that two areas where the government meddles the most are fast out-pacing inflation in almost all other sectors.

Based on Malthus’ observation and our own, the prospect for actually increasing liberty for the recipients of the health funds is unlikely.  It is far more likely that the actual buying power of their available assets will stay roughly the same.

Now, we consider the plan administrators. Do their liberties increase as a result of a government run health care take-over?  Clearly, the answer to this is yes.  Plan administrators are given the power of life or death over the recipients of their funds and the power of the purse strings over the donors.  Perhaps this explains the century-long campaign our government has waged in effort to obtain this power?

Our (ostensibly) limited government, would become much less so as the administrator of all of our health considerations.  With regards to Liberty, then, the only party who benefits from a government run health plan is the only party who is supposed to be constrained.  As with virtue, we find that a government health care plan is harmful on balance.


“Over one’s mind and over one’s body the individual is sovereign.” , John Stuart Mill

The harmful effect of government health care on our independence is so painfully obvious that it almost doesn’t even merit a discussion.  As with Liberty, it is easy to see that the person being compelled to separate with the money he has earned is not having his independence enhanced.  Perhaps he is not made more dependent by this action, or perhaps he is, but at best his independence is unchanged.

Star Parker has written persuasively about Uncle Sam’s Plantation, saying,

A benevolent Uncle Sam welcomed mostly poor black Americans onto the government plantation.  Those who accepted the invitation switched mindsets from “How do I take care of myself?” to “What do I have to do to stay on the plantation?”

The legacy of American socialism is our blighted inner cities, dysfunctional inner city schools, and broken black families.

Clearly, a person who relies on coerced hand-outs from others for his health care is not an in independent person.  Is there any reason to believe that dependence on government health care will be any less harmful then other forms of dependence?

“Our present condition is, Legislation without law; wisdom without a plan; a constitution without a name; and, what is strangely astonishing, perfect independence contending for dependence.”, Thomas Paine


The main claim of proponents of a government administered health plan is that society will somehow be a better place if we follow the example of Robin Hood and rob from the rich to give to the poor. They forget, though, that Robin Hood was a hero because he rebelled against unjust taxation, not because he was a thief.

By careful thought, we can see through their claim. Society cannot possibly be better by taking from one, skimming a little (or a lot) off the top, then giving to another. Why should we, in Pennsylvania, be sending our money to Washington for skimming, then on to pay for health care in other states? The amount of money that manages to escape from Washington’s clutches is always going to be (far) less than the money that went in, so clearly it could be put to be better, more virtuous use by avoiding Washington in the first place.

Our officials in Pennsylvania are currently working on a variety of Tenth Amendment related initiatives to resist the federal take care of our state’s health care system.  That effort is consistent with the values stated in our state motto.  >Contact your elected officials and let them know that you support these efforts.

Steve Palmer is the State Chapter Coordinator for the Pennsylvania Tenth Amendment Center.

Copyright © 2010 by Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given

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