The failure of a philosophy

Andy Matthews

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The failure of a philosophy

You know things aren’t going well for you as a president when the debate between your supporters and detractors isn’t over whether you’re a success or a failure, but over the reasons why you’ve failed.

Many of President Obama’s staunchest defenders have been shell-shocked by the still-unfolding disaster that is the (un)Affordable Care Act, and the honesty some of them have shown in acknowledging that disaster is commendable. But what’s striking is how many of them have insisted on chalking it up to either a botched rollout owing to a few technological glitches, or even a mere failure of public relations. A Nov. 3 column by the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne captured both sentiments. After imploring the law’s defenders to focus their attention on “simplifying and fixing the Web site,” Dionne then lamented that the administration “has never adequately defended the law.” Yes, because what Obamacare really needed was one more speech from the president.

A favorite argument among conservatives, on the other hand, has been that the problem is much deeper than the merely cosmetic, and that the fiasco is at least partially attributable to the president’s inexperience and general incompetence. For example, a couple weeks ago Dr. Charles Krauthammer said on FOX News that “this is really incompetence of a level that is indescribable. And it stands to reason. We've got a president who never ran anything.”

Krauthammer is right. (Isn’t he always?) But even his explanation gets at only part of the most important lesson here. Even under more capable management, Obamacare would still be a mess. After all, those who successfully navigate the website find plans with higher premiums and deductibles, but fewer covered doctors.

What we’re witnessing here is not just the failure of a president, an administration or even a particular program, but the next phase of the ongoing failure of liberals’ governmental philosophy.

That philosophy holds that the way to create prosperity and otherwise improve society is to empower the state with ever more control over — well, just about everything. Personal decisions — say, what type of health insurance (if any) to buy — should be made not by an individual but by government busybodies. And economic decisions — which products are worthy of investment, how much a business owner should pay for labor, etc. — are better left to the bureaucrats as well.

As much as any president in American history, Barack Obama embodies this philosophy. And more than any other, he has been able to put it into action. The result has been one failure after another.

One of the most amazing things about the Obamacare story is that the law has been such a spectacular failure for this president, that it can almost make you forget about all of his others.

Such as the stimulus. Remember that? The federal government spent $787 billion to rejuvenate the economy, and nearly five years later we’re still dealing with chronically high unemployment. A big chunk of the stimulus spending was on so-called “investments” in clean-energy companies. Such as Solyndra, which got $535 million in federal loans — right before going belly-up.

And let’s not forget Cash for Clunkers, a program billed as a way to create jobs while also helping the environment by getting energy-inefficient vehicles off the road. Did it work? A study from the Brookings Institution found that the program cost $1.4 million for every job created and did almost nothing to reduce carbon emissions.

The common thread running through all of these failures is not faulty technology, inadequate PR, or even lax oversight or managerial incompetence. It’s that they were all rooted in the philosophy I described above. Each of these programs substitutes the judgment of government bureaucrats for that of producers and consumers acting in a free market, and for that reason, they were all destined to fail from the word “go.”

Take America’s most talented CEO, pair him up with a superior media firm and give him access to all the wiz kids at Amazon or Apple or wherever, and even he won’t be able to out-perform the cooperation, community and organization produced by hundreds of millions of individuals acting in their own self-interest.

The problems with Obamacare are exacerbated by its embarrassing website, but the underlying problem is that neither President Obama nor anyone else can run our nation’s health-care system better than the free market can.

Until next time,

Andy Matthews
NPRI President

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