STAFF NEWS & ANALYSIS
Are Town Halls a Threat to Democracy?
By Staff News & Analysis - August 15, 2009

As lamentable as the techniques used by demonstrators in recent days are, the shouting down of various members of Congress at town hall meetings may turn out to have the desired effect. Thirty-seven years of hanging around Capitol Hill has led me to the conclusion that most elected officials have a strong tendency to be risk-averse. From time to time, congressmen won't mind getting somewhat out front of their constituents on a given issue, but not too far out front. It's one thing to be attacked by an opponent or an outside group during an election; that's just part of the process. It's also part of the process to have people vigorously disagree at a town meeting or similar event. But the scenes we've seen on television and YouTube in recent days, showing members being heckled, verbally assaulted and threatened, are rather extraordinary and not anything that any member of Congress I've ever met would take lightly. – National Journal

Dominant Social Theme: Democracy must continue.

Free-Market Analysis: This article and others like it tend to take the point of view that the shouting and yelling taking place at American town halls is detrimental to the functioning of democracy. The idea is that Americans have always solved their political problems with civil discourse. If civil discourse is shut down by shouting, then democracy loses. It is democracy, the civil discourse of citizens, that has made America great and will continue to make her great. That's the dominant social theme in any case: Democracy must continue and overcome, not only in America but also in Europe. Here's some more from the same article:

The sick feeling that some of us are having while watching these events is in part due to the assumption that we have not seen the end of such ambushes and other political guerrilla tactics. Watching a recent YouTube video of Rep. Bob Inglis, a 90-plus-percent conservative Republican from South Carolina, being heckled by constituents who clearly doubted his conservative bona fides serves as further evidence that the raucous discourse of talk radio and the Internet is now spilling over into the broader public discourse. It also illustrates that few, if any, members are safe from such verbal abuse. Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle will rue the day that the civility of political discourse notched down a bit further. This will become a routine tool for activists and organizers of all stripes for one simple reason: It works.

We have not felt sick watching the town halls. The idea that democratic conversation is necessary for civil discourse is a fine one, but the civil discourse of the past 100 years has not exactly retained the American Republics' features. Today, the nation taxes up to 40 percent or more of an individual's income and routinely spends something like 30 percent of the nation's gross industrial product on a variety of welfare programs and foreign wars. The money itself is debt-paper issued by a central bank and gold and silver have been banned as money. This is surely not what the founding fathers intended. If the town halls are heating up now, perhaps issues outside of health care may eventually be broached – including how far America has strayed from its roots. Health care is obviously a wedge issue but it is only one of a number of issues that American citizens will have to revisit if they want a return to a more minimalist government.

It is a difficult problem for those who believe in free markets. Even the vocabulary and the concepts having to do with smaller government are lacking. Those who are protesting this latest revision of American healthcare often say they have the best health care system in the world. The idea is that government ought not to meddle in it. But is this true? This vocabulary assumes that the American health care system is private. In fact, half of the American health care system is likely socialized between Medicare and Medicaid.

Additionally, the price points of the American health care system are questionable. The marketplace has been removed by various laws that make pricing of health care services unpredictable. Medicare and Medicaid are where many price points are negotiated but laws make the imposition of rational pricing difficult. Private pharmaceutical companies and other health care providers are in the position to over-price their products and services. And they do. That's one reason prices continually rise.

Because pricing is already involved deeply with government, the idea that the private marketplace holds sway in American healthcare is an illusion. What is not an illusion is that the system will probably get worse once a public option of some sort is more formally adopted. Initially the system will be presented as one that must live or die on revenue, like private systems. But later on, once it founders, the rules will be changed and the system will emerge as a preferable, low-cost option for companies and individuals seeking health care services and insurance.

The only way back from a public takeover of health care in the United States is a return to a private market where people paid doctors for services rendered. This would mean the very fanciest kinds of health care tools probably would not be available to all because not all people could afford to pay for them. Additionally, since most expenditures are made in the last three months of life, people would be loath to make million-dollar investments in their health care once it was clear they were dying. These private market solutions would return health care to market-based model.

Health care is half-socialized. The Obama administration, admitting that the price-link to medical care has been severed, offers a public option that will eventually turn into a full-fledged public "wealth-care" system. Obama does not suggest returning to a market-based model even though this would actually solve the problem. The government-payer model will only aggravate the problems already involved in a system that is half government operated.

After Thoughts

The US administration professes to be surprised, though not concerned, by the opposition to its health care plans. In fact, worst case, the government may get a most rudimentary plan that will allow further emendations as it inevitably runs out of money. The purpose of this somewhat cynical effort in our opinion is to get some sort of bill passed and then build on it later. That's the way it works when it comes to legislation. Those citizens who object to the initial bill passed don't have the time or energy to continue to monitor the inevitable evolution of once-modest legislative efforts. This is why free-market systems are often difficult to reinvent once they have been abrogated. There is, for instance, a provision in the American constitution explaining what money is – gold and silver – and how it is to be coined. America once had a free-market money system and until the Civil War, with hiccups, it worked fairly well. Once the health care debate is resolved (hopefully in favor of freer markets), perhaps the debate over money, credit and central banking can begin.

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