The myth at the heart of the nanny state

It was telling that the president yesterday proposed the federal government rate universities on matters such as tuition, graduation rates, loan default and the rest. More thoughtful liberals then we are, fretting about what sort of “metric” would be used and how to make sure the government would get it “right.” This is the liberal fallacy at the heart of the welfare state.

Barack Obama

U.S. President Barack Obama (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

Liberals — who ordinarily believe in multiculturalism and subjectivity on every aspect of life — contend government can divine Platonic truths by virtue of its unique expertise. This government can tell us whether a college has just the right amount of high earning graduates or how many bells and whistles insurers must attach to insurance plans to qualify as coverage under Obamacare.

This ignores, of course, that there is no objective ideal when it comes to buying insurance; individuals have different preferences. Only if you infantilize voters and declare them incapable of making their own choice do you take the construction of the perfect health-care coverage away from buyers and sellers, just as you must believe college students and their parents when given all the data can’t decide for themselves what they feel is a good deal or not. The government takes decisions away from individuals, turns what is a preference into a mandate or subsidy and packages as a one-size, objective standard. That is nonsense.

An intelligent 20 year-old can determine that he’d rather spend money on a particular university, even if overpriced, than a gold-plated insurance plan that forces him to buy more insurance than he wants or needs (which is likely a lower-cost catastrophic plan). For him, the school of his choice is a B+ and Obamacare is an F. All he requires is full disclosure (e.g. what tuition costs, graduation rates, salaries after graduation) to assess for himself the relative merits of a particular school or insurance plan.

The top-down welfare state however insists the government will tell you what a good university deal is based on its own criteria and what is a valid health-care plan based (likely) on legislative deal-making and interest group haggling (make sure orthodontic braces are included!). It usurps individuals’ decision making and forces money to be allocated in undesirable ways.

It would be one thing if President Obama advocated merely truth-in-advertising from universities and health-care insurers. But he’s not satisfied with that. From a liberal mindset he has to meddle, guideĀ and dictate on behalf of individuals. The state is parent, accountant and financial adviser.

Only by holding tight to the myth that there is a “correct” amount of debt for students and a sufficient health-care plan (identical for everyone) can liberals justify their intrusion in education, health care and much more. Once that mirage is punctured the justification for much of the liberal welfare state crumbles.

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