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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Obamacare and the Legacy of Progressivism

Putting Government in the Hands of Bureaucrats and "Experts"

The suspense is over and it is inevitable that the monstrous medical care bill will become law. There is no way to sanitize this thing, period. It is the ultimate “Progressivist” legacy.

Paul Krugman, perhaps the most visible “Progressive” today, supports this bill because it vastly expands the scope of the state in our lives. Like most “Progressives,” Krugman believes many things about a state controlled by people he supports. Among the “Progressive” beliefs are:

  • “Experts” should decide what is best for everyone;
  • The executive branch of government must employ “experts” who can make rules for everyone else;
  • Governmental executives (i.e., President of the United States) should not be impeded by legislators, most of whom are not “experts,” and who fail to have the interests of everyone in mind, unlike the “experts” of the executive branch;
  • Therefore, the legislative branches of government should defer to the executive branch, provided the “right kind of people” are in the executive’s chair.

Few people actually know everything that exists in this long and convoluted bill. However, that is unimportant, for in the end, the executive branch and its bureaucracies, not Congress, will interpret what the bill contains.

Most people still have the civics book ideas in their heads regarding law and the three branches of government. Americans are taught from grammar school on that the federal government has three branches: Congress, the Executive Branch, and the Federal Courts. According to the civics lessons, Congress makes the laws, the Executive Branch carries out the laws, and the Federal Courts interpret the laws.

That “model” of government disappeared even before the Progressive Era gripped the country a century ago, but it gained in strength during the Great Depression. “Progressives” such as Theodore Roosevelt and Herbert Croly, believed that people had become so advanced through “science” that they no longer needed to be subjected to the messy and (to them) “chaotic” processes of private markets and legislative debate. The “experts” already knew what needed to be done, and anything done by legislatures and markets to delay the directives of the “experts” should be swept away.

Thus, Krugman can write the following, which is fully consistent with the Progressive ethos:

Now consider what lies ahead. We need fundamental financial reform. We need to deal with climate change. We need to deal with our long-run budget deficit. What are the chances that we can do all that — or, I’m tempted to say, any of it — if doing anything requires 60 votes in a deeply polarized Senate?

Translation: We need government action, not legislative debate. The legislative branch just gets in the way of what we need. (I do find it curious that a person who had advocated the most irresponsible spending in the history of the country now says we must “deal” with the “long-run budget deficit.” What he really means, of course, is that we have to raise taxes through the roof.)

Krugman need not fear, however, for the Obama administration really did not need this bill to take over medical care. Remember the 2009 GM/Chrysler bailouts? They came entirely through the executive branch, while in 1980, Congress had to pass legislation to aid Chrysler. In other words, the financial and regulatory role of Congress has shrunk massively even in the past 30 years.

Likewise, the EPA recently re-interpreted (with permission from the U.S. Supreme Court) the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments to include carbon dioxide as a “dangerous pollutant.” The original law had no such language, but the EPA simply identified a new pollutant, and it legally can impose “solutions.”

In the end, the bill will be whatever the White House wants it to be. The ultimate legacy of “Progressivism” is that political debate no longer matters. The medical bill was bad legislation and everyone knew it, which was why the political tension was so great. However, now that Congress has given it permission to determine our medical futures, the Obama administration will waste no time imposing oppressive and costly new rules upon us, even if they are not contained in the actual bill Congress passed.

  • Dr. William Anderson is Professor of Economics at Frostburg State University. He holds a Ph.D in Economics from Auburn University. He is a member of the FEE Faculty Network.