The Allure of Mandates
By Tibor Machan - August 20, 2012

Peter Coy of Bloomberg/Businessweek is an avid fan of mandates (see his "The Case for Way More Mandates" 7/9-7/15, 2012, p. 24). That is to say he prefers forcing people to do what he thinks they should do rather than persuading them, kind of like what the USSR's rulers practiced routinely. (To mandate presupposes the capacity to impose one's will! And governments are usually powerful enough to accomplish that. It amounts to coercing others, nothing nicer!)

The major argument given for mandates such as Mr. Obama's preferred way to get people to insure their health care is that, well, by getting a lot of people to be part of the system, the cost of it all will not be as high as otherwise. And this is true for a while. If a lot of people are forced to eat at the restaurant I prefer, prices will be lower there. Higher demand for any goods or services leads to lower prices, indeed.

But this applies mainly to demand that is forthcoming voluntarily, not from having been mandated. Conscripting customers and clients may appear to be economical but only for a bit. In time people start finding ways to dodge conscription, like the military draft or the policies of dictatorships or tyrannies. All the energy devoted to such draft – i.e., mandate – dodging and its prevention goes to waste and that itself will turn out to be very costly.

What is really disturbing is that some justices of the US Supreme Court buy into this obscene way of thinking. Justice Ginsburg did recently when she wrote: "People who don't participate in this market are making it much more expensive for the people who do; that is, they will get, a good number of them will get services that they can't afford at the point where they need them, and the result is that everybody else's premiums get raised? It's not your free choice just to do something for yourself. What you do is going to affect others, affect them in a major way." In other words, if one doesn't purchase health insurance, others who want to buy some will have to pay more than they would if one did so! And as this applies to everything, we may then assume that Justice Ginsburg prefers a market in which people are forced to make purchases of goods and services she would like to be cheaper than if people made them voluntarily.

Conscripting customers is what she is proposing and what cheerleaders of mandates, like Peter Coy of Bloomberg/ Businessweek, advocate. At bottom this means that the choices of recalcitrant citizens will be sacrificed to Justice Ginsburg's choices, which is tyranny, plain and simple – some folks in society get to lord it over other folks. For a justice of the US Supreme Court to advocate such public policies is out and out treasonous, given that the USA is supposed to have a government devoted to securing the protection of the rights of its citizens even from mobs that would wish to violate those rights.

Respecting the rights of others can always be construed as something costly. Your private property rights in your home require me to walk around it when I want to get to the other side of it! If you refuse to clean my front yard, I will need to hire someone to do it. If an airline company doesn't provide me with free air travel, I will need to purchase the service. If farm workers refuse to work without pay, those wanting their services will have to fork over wages. And on and on it goes.

So the allure of mandating services from others has to be resisted in the process of respecting their rights. This is supposed to be elementary in a free society. And the laws of such a society must not yield to such allure, lest it violates, betrays the principles of liberty on which it is supposedly founded and the securing of which is its government's central task!

It is true enough that mandating that citizens – who used to be "subjects" when their rights were ignored – serve others and the goals that others consider important (indeed, may even be important) has been the norm throughout human history. The ideas of individual rights, to one's life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, etc., have only recently become prominent in considering how public policies are to be forged. Kings, pharaohs, czars and others who insist that it's their way or the highway never found the regime of individual rights appealing and still do not – just check the news from around the globe, including the country in which you live.

But as the saying goes, the price of liberty, that most precious feature of a just community, is eternal vigilance.