“Soak the rich” is not shared responsibility.

I haven’t had time to work my way through John Edwards’ proposed health plan (pdf), but I’ve read enough to know that it’s a preposterous joke that would end in fully socialized health care. No thanks. But instead of summarizing such a silly idea, I’d rather briefly explore Ezra Klein’s analysis of the plan. (Link courtesy of Balloon Juice.) I suspect it’s a fair representation of a good swath of left-leaning liberals who buy into the economically unsound view sold by most prominent Democrats. Consider:

In other words, the public sector will finally be allowed to compete with the private sector, and consumers will be able to decide which style they prefer. For Democrats, this is a significant step forward. From there, the plan offers the usual mix of sliding subsidies to ensure affordability, individual mandate to universalize coverage, pay-for-performance promises, and public health fixes. You’ve heard those bits before. What’s new, and what’s important, are the community rated health markets that include public insurance. Indeed, the plan satisfied every plank of my progressive health reform test from last week.

The plan will cost between $90 billion and $120 billion a year, and according to Edwards, taxes will have to be raised to pay for it. Readers should remember that this is the first full health reform plan from a major candidate in the 2008 election. As such, it has widened the field of the debate, and unless the other candidates want to explain why they lack the boldness of Edwards’ plan, they’ll have to offer similarly comprehensive proposals. What they will have to match is full community rating, a public insurance option, total universality, scaleability towards more public involvement, and a willingness to propose something comprehensive enough to require revenue increases to fund. In other words: The goalposts have been moved. To the left.

I don’t like this at all. The public sector has no business competing with the private sector. Aside from the centuries of data demonstrating that private markets work better, the public sector isn’t tasked with such endeavors. It must tackle public concerns like national defense. Individual choices of managing personal risk is entirely different. The public sector can’t know what my preference is for medical insurance. Inevitably, I will be forced to pay for something I don’t want or need, or I will be forced to pay for something for someone else that I don’t believe is appropriate. Why should a third-party be involved in that decision?

From what I’ve seen of Mr. Edwards’ tax plans with respect to health coverage, he believes that the rich should pay more and that the IRS can find unpaid taxes to minimize the new burden. Nonsense on both counts. The “rich” have no obligation to the “poor,” just as no man has any specific obligation to another man. That’s what individual, private sector transactions are for. People can create their own network of obligations and commitments. With such a radical shift, and massive increase in the tax burden of a few, those proposing such a change must prove why their new path is justified. If consumers can decide which version they prefer, why will some still get stuck with the bill for those who prefer the other? Using the barrel of a government gun to make me pay for someone else’s choices is wrong, regardless of how much money I make.

Of course, Mr. Klein’s entire premise is absurd, so everything preceding his final point adds little but easy counter-arguments. “Comprehensive enough to require revenue increases” is an ideological assumption, not a practical foundation. It shouldn’t be hard to see the byzantine mess that can evolve if bold vision requires only greater revenue. Too many supporting universal, taxpayer-funded health care seem confused that poor people receiving inadequate care and groups of people lacking health insurance are the same problem. They are not. You can solve one in this debate. Either everyone gets coverage and medical care becomes rationed, or people in need of medical care who can’t pay for it get the specific, immediate care they need, with the question of who pays being a separate discussion. If it’s the latter, this babble about universal health care is a utopian dream. If it’s the former, why do supporters believe that worse health care for most Americans is justifiable to give poor people what they’re generally already getting?

The short version is better. Wishing it so and making it so aren’t the same action.