Mar 062013

The Florida Speaker of the House, Will Weatherford, told an emotional story about a younger brother who died of cancer. He discussed his parents having to receive help with the bills and he was glad there was a safety net. It was later disclosed that the government help was Medicaid. The Speaker, who is against receiving the Obamacare Medicaid expansion, immediately came under fire. The news media took aim at Weatherford for being a hypocrite. But is he really?

One of the immediate reactions of those who support state funded systems is to respond with, “you benefited from (insert government program here), and now you’re against it. That makes you a hypocrite.” These arguments are somehow based on the idea that if you oppose a program or government system that you or a family member may have used, you lack credibility to challenge the program. At first glance it seems to be a viable argument. However, what is being discussed is the seen without regard for what might have been.

A brief introduction to Federic Basiat might be in order. Bastiat wrote a famous essay, “That Which is Seen and That Which is Unseen.” Briefly, Bastiat details that it is easy to focus on what we can see because it’s simple and obvious. What is far more difficult is to determine what is not seen because we are focusing on the seen. Perhaps an example using Speaker Weatherford may help.

Weatherford’s family received Medicaid because his brother was dying of cancer and the family had high medical bills. That is fact, obvious, and what is seen. However, what would have happened if Medicaid had not been available? The unseen? The easy answer seems to be that without Medicaid, the brother would have died a horrible death, leaving the family destitute and living on the street penniless. The conclusion would easily be that in the absence of Medicaid, there would be . . . nothing. It’s Medicaid or nothing; there is no other alternative. It’s as though the “unseen” does not exist and could never have existed. No regard for charity, private assistance, or other non-government help.

The same conclusion is often used with the “roads” argument. Those who are quick to dismiss Classic Liberal and libertarian ideas argue, “you need the government because you use the roads.” The automatic assumption is that the only mode of transportation is concrete pavement set there by the government. It may never occur to these people that perhaps it is because we have roads that we don’t have flying cars. Of course the idea of flying cars is silly because it’s unseen and the unseen is often brushed of as, “unrealistic.” But, the critics somehow miss the fact that private groups have interest in roads and transportation as well, and could very easily fill that need. Perhaps it’s the government building roads that is forcing us to use the roads and hampering flying cars? What is seen is a libertarian driving on the government road, what is unseen is what would exist if there were no government built roads.

It is easy and superficial to criticize Weatherford for being a hypocrite based on the fallacy that without Medicaid his family would never had made it. Medicaid is the seen, it’s easy, it requires little thought. As government continues to grow and expand into all areas, the argument in favor of the seen, it will become more pervasive. The seen is what is going to haunt Weatherford because even he will never know the unseen.

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