Monday, April 12, 2010

C. S. Lewis on Health Care: The Rest of the Story

What would C. S. Lewis say about Obamacare? The linked piece by David Theroux, with references to Lewis's essay "Is Progress Possible: Willing Slaves of the Welfare State," shows that he would have had some concerns about it. Indeed these are the kinds of concerns that conservatives have about the effort on the part of government to help people. But that is only one side of the story. Lewis never says that governmental economic assistance is bad, only that we should count its cost.  The other side of the story is that he concluded, as a result of his correspondence with an American woman about her difficulties in getting health care in our country, that in spite of the hard things to say about the British single payer health care system, (a system that is, of course, far more socialistic than anything Obama has proposed) that it was, in the last analysis, a good idea.

In a letter to Mary Willis Shelburne dated 7th July 1959 (Letters, vol 3, page 1064), Lewis wrote
"What you have gone through begins to reconcile me to our Welfare State of which I have said so many hard things. 'National Health Service' with free treatment for all has its drawbacks - one being that Doctors are incessantly pestered by people who have nothing wrong with them. But it is better than leaving people to sink or swim on their own resources."

I covered this earlier, and of course one of my commentators said that Lewis just went soft in the head. My own view is that he had a balanced perspective: he could see that the British health care system was a mixed blessing, but a blessing nevertheless. I think this is a view that is shared by British conservatives today, who never propose dismantling it, just as American conservatives never say they want to do away with Medicare. Margaret Thatcher, Reagan's counterpart in Britain, didn't try to dismantle it during her administration, in spite of her own conservatism.


Jake Elwood XVI said...

I usually consider my self quite conservative in the political field. But it seems my form of consevatism is an Australian model which is nearer the UK model. I don't like gov't doing things that big business should be doing i.e trying to make money. Surely spending and taking money is their thing.

When I hear of health care as an Australian I think that is probably right that I pay levy of 1.5% of my income to help provide for the nations medical bills. I also think it is fair that as a high income earner (in Australia that is) I'm encouraged to have my own additional medical cover or pay an additional 1%. Obviously I don't understand the cultural underpinnngs of this debate. It's not that I don't whinge about it on ocassions but like with other things the gov't makes me pay for it's for the betterment of society such as unemployment benefits. It's not a perfect
system and I don't like people bludging but surely a safety net is needed. I could not handle people sinking. That seems to go against the religion as written of by St James the Brother of Jesus.

Victor Reppert said...

The difference between British or Australian conservatism and the American right wing is something that is to little understood. For example, in Britain it seems far less tied to an almost religious faith in free-market economics that you find here (at least in theory, in practice, we have to bail out those companies that are too big to fail), and also seems to support the conservation of nature (one thing that conservatives there want to conserve!), this in contrast with global warming denial here in America.

Unknown said...

As it rolls out over the next few years and the employer mandate kicks in (except for Obama's excempted friends, himself, Pelosi, Harry Reid and gang) it will become much more disruptive. The small percentage of people who didn't have insurance and wanted it could have been given Cadillac Health Coverage at far less cost as Obamacare will inflict on the economy. I think it's more about consolidating/centralizing power. They could have included tort reform (to reduce the huge cost of medical liability suites) for example. Republicans tried to get it included but the corrupt Democrats staunchly rejected the proposal to satisfy the greed of the American Trial Lawyers Association. Real health promoting proposals like provision for an integration of natural medicine with conventional medicine option was rejected to satisfy the pharmaceutical and medical industry profiteers. Cost-cutting proposals like medical savings accounts were rejected so that power will become increasingly centralized in the bureaucracies. So it seems to me. Considering the thousands of pages of added regulations and tens of thousands of bureaucratic rules attached, I wonder if Lewis would see AHCA as a good change?

Unknown said...

Would it be more probable that his sentiment; “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience... " from God in the Dock might apply in this case?