Mark Shea incorrectly critiques libertarian views on health care

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mark shea health care

I stumbled across Mark Shea, a Catholic writer on Patheos.com, who seems to have somewhat of a chip on his shoulder regarding libertarianism.  He attacks it as a heresy of Catholicism and spends time attempting to critique libertarian positions.  However, just about everything he says about libertarianism is flat out wrong.  He makes straw man argument after straw man argument and does not even attempt to interpret libertarian views in any way other than evil.

As both a proud Catholic and a proud libertarian anarchist, I feel the need to offer some rebuttals to Mark Shea.  And allow me to begin with the passage from Matthew 18:6, which is very relevant to Shea’s attacks on libertarianism:

If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

I find that both my Catholicism and my libertarianism independently support each other.  The respect of individual rights and the rejection of institutional violence by the state are central tenets to both libertarianism and Catholicism (and Christianity in general as well as virtually every other religion).  Theft through taxation is evil enough but even worse is that the state routinely engages in devastating wars for awful reasons that kill countless innocent civilians.  So to tell impressionable people that libertarianism is a heresy puts you in murky moral waters at best.

Anyway, Mark Shea wrote a piece a few months ago accusing libertarians of being against socialized health care because what they truly want is eugenics (I know).  It apparently started when Shea had a conversation with a Catholic libertarian about whether health care is a right.  The libertarian made the correct assertion that the state providing health care is not charity since it takes money without permission to provide the service.

Shea responds with an accusation that the argument is a lie (he cannot just say that it’s wrong; he has to attack it as a lie):

The reason this is a lie is that health care is not charity.  It is, as the Church teaches, a right.

The Libertarian lie in reply to this is twofold.

1.  There can be no right to something that requires the property and labor of another person, and
2. 
Such a right would mean that said property and labor *must* be provided free of charge, meaning slavery.

The reply to these lies is twofold as well:

1.  This lie means that no child, born or unborn, can have a right to life since children do nothing but demand the labor and property of others in order to live.  Both Rothbard and Rand asserted precisely this, which made them extremely consistent Libertarian and extremely horrible human beings.  Every Catholic Libertarian who asserts this damnable lie is a friend of the abortionist, but an enemy of the Faith.
2. 
The same people who say there is no right to health care say out of the other side of their mouths that we have a right to keep and bear arms.  Yet somehow, miraculously, this right does not involve enslaving gun manufacturers.  Nor does a right to food, shelter, education, or justice mean enslaving grocers, builders, teachers or police and judges.  Some of them we pay in the private sector and others we pay via the state.  We can do the same with health care professionals.

The reason health care is a right is that life is a right and health is simply a corollary of that.  And because health care is a right, guaranteeing access to it, like guaranteeing the right to be born, is a matter of justice, not charity, too.  And since it is precisely the business of the state to secure justice, it is the rightful business of the state to secure access to health care for all.

Before we analyze Shea’s points, it’s important to correct him on what health care is.  Health care is neither charity nor a right.  Health care is a service.  The question then becomes whether that service should be provided by the market through voluntary transactions including payments and charity or by the state through socialization (i.e. the barrel of a gun).  It is my belief—based on the historically wild success of markets providing goods and services compared to the state’s abysmal record—that health care should be provided by the voluntary transactions of individuals operating in a free market unfettered from interferences by central planning.

In his first point, Shea neglects the idea of obligation.  There is a huge difference between paying for a random stranger’s health care and paying for your own child’s health care.  What is the difference?  Parents have special obligations to their children that do not generally exist for non-children (this of course does not mean that it’s not good to be charitable to people to whom you have no obligations; that is what charity is after all).  This obligation is created when a person’s wellbeing is placed in another’s care through no fault or action of their own.

Consider this example.  I own an airplane and invite Shea on a ride.  In the middle of the ride, I decide that I do not want Shea using my property any longer, so I expel him from my airplane since the airplane is my property and he does not have my permission to use it any longer.  This is proof of a gaping hole in libertarian theory only for those with an infantile understanding of it.  Unless I explicitly told Shea that I was going to kick him out of the airplane during the flight, it is perfectly reasonable for him to expect that the ride would not result in his certain demise.  Only a psychopath would expect otherwise.  So it is reasonable to hold that Shea accepted the ride contingent upon the implicit agreement that I would keep him safe while he was in my care.

This implicit agreement is only valid for things directly related to the airplane ride.  Shea could not demand that I implicitly agreed to give him $20.

This same implicit agreement exists with the parent/child relationship.  The child could not have possibly agreed to be conceived, so it is not through the actions of the child that he requires food and other resources necessary for his survival.  Knowing that bearing children is one of the consequences of sex, the obligation to take care of the child is created when conception occurs (and thus justifies the libertarian anti-abortion position) since the act could never be the choice of the child.

If the parents in some extreme case decide that they no longer wish to take care of the child but refuse to give him up to a willing caretaker, it is not a death sentence for the child.  I’ve discussed solutions to this hypothetical here.

The second point by Shea is more obviously incorrect.  Positive rights do not exist; only negative rights exist.  Having a negative right means that you are free to pursue something as long as you do not infringe on anyone else’s rights.  It does not mean that if you want something that it must be provided to you.  So to have the right to keep and bear arms means that you have the right to pursue the ownership of them and that no one can take them away once you own them.

Health care is a right only insofar as an individual has the right to pursue it without unjustified interference.  Just like a gun, someone must manufacture, for example, the pill to cure another’s ailment.  Anyone would have the right to pursue the ownership of the pill.  However, if the government takes my money via taxation to pay for the pills for Shea’s use, then Shea is using me as an instrument for his pursuits without my permission.  Since this is institutionalized through the system of taxation via the state, then a portion of the fruits of my labor are claimed by someone else without my permission.  This is the definition of slavery: the nonconsensual claim to the fruits of someone else’s labor.

To casually say, “Some of them we pay in the private sector and others we pay via the state,” is a complete dismissal of the vitally important distinctions between the private sector (a system of voluntary transactions) and the state (a system of slavery and theft).  It also neglects the very Catholic notion that the end does not justify the means.

With the basis for Shea’s arguments shown to be incorrect, we can safely assume that the conclusions he draws from them must also be incorrect or at best unsupported.  Shea should be more careful about his critiques of libertarianism if he doesn’t understand the core ideas behind it.  And he should especially be careful as a Catholic since his advocacy against libertarianism of course means his support of theft, slavery, and murder for those who do not comply.


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