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An Obamacare lesson: Where would you limit state power?

April 01. 2012 4:44PM

Last week's Supreme Court oral arguments over Obamacare were instructive for many reasons. For one, the Obama administration could not explain with any clarity why the federal government ought to have the power to compel people to buy health insurance but not to buy any other product or service Congress might deem necessary. The arguments it used were so flimsy that the solicitor general dared not lean on them too hard, for they obviously would have snapped.

The whole sad spectacle led us to wonder what limits the average Obamacare supporter would place on the government's authority to direct our behavior.

The poor solicitor general tried to make the case that health care was a unique market that required this mandate, and therefore such a use of state power would not be applicable in any other market. But the only thing unique about the health care market is the extent to which federal and state laws and regulations have distorted it so that it no longer functions like other markets in which insurance is sold. The market for health insurance would function very much like the markets for automobile or life insurance were the same rules applied to all three.

The flaw in the administration's argument was obvious, and several justices exposed it immediately. With that false justification shattered, the administration had no other principle to which to turn.

Obamacare supporters spent last week asserting that the law benefits many people, therefore it must not be overturned. But that's pure utilitarianism. What we want to know is: What limits would they put on the power of the state even when it is trying to do good?

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