What You Deserve

2012-10-10 – Had a conversation with a guy Sunday about Obamacare. He calls it socialist. I asked him what that meant to him, since everybody’s definition of socialism is very personal. He said that it meant people getting something they don’t earn. Then he said that he’s not much interested in politics and that he doesn’t have much respect for anyone in politics. End of discussion.

But the question kept rolling around in my head because people are talking a lot about socialism recently. Like they used to talk about communism. So I began to think about the kinds of situations we encounter in life that seem to be unfair, that seem to give people something they don’t deserve. Here are a few of them:

  • Anne buys health insurance and pays the first premium of $1,000. Before her renewal, she is diagnosed with an aggressive cancer and undergoes treatment costing $120,000. She’s made $119,000 profit. Is that deserved?
  • In spite of the treatment, she dies. Is that a fitting punishment?
  • John buys stock in a corporation. Then next day, the corporation announces a cure for cancer. John knew nothing about the cure. The stock goes to $120,000. He’s made $119,000 profit. Is that deserved?
  • Arlene buys stock in a corporation. The next day, the corporation announces that it is laying Anne and her colleagues off. Arlene knew nothing about the layoff. The stock goes to $120,000. She’s made $119,000 in profit. Is that deserved.
  • John and Arlene get married. The next day John is hit by a bus and killed. Arlene has made $119,000 because she inherited John’s stock profit. Is that deserved?

I could go on and on. Human beings have created a variety of social institutions (i.e., socialism) to reduce the risks of life. Insurance is one of them. Corporations are another. The institution of marriage is another. Government is another. They all involve sharing of resources and sharing of risks. Rarely do people get out the same amount that they put in. Some get more. Some get less.

So, if you consider this to be unearned or undeserved, then yes Obamacare is socialist. But so is private insurance and so is every business corporation on earth and so are families. Why do we do it? Because our overall well-being is enhanced by these arrangements. Not perfectly, of course, which is why we want to constantly improve them. But the concept of sharing institutions is age-old and essential to human happiness.

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