Medicaid expansion does not equal government expansion

Aug 2, 2013

Yesterday I talked about Washington’s offer to expand Medicaid to many Michiganders who currently have no health insurance. The government has offered to make the program available to many poor, but not officially poverty-stricken, Americans.

States who participate will pay only a fraction of the cost. This would immediately provide health care to hundreds of thousands who don’t now have it, and be extremely beneficial to virtually everyone, including employers, who would have a healthier work force.

Though some states sensibly ratified this almost immediately, Michigan has dragged its feet, largely because of bitter ideological opposition to anything that seems to be “government” health care. I said yesterday that this was irrational and was harming our state.

But while I heard from many people who agreed, not everybody did. One woman said I just didn’t understand that this would be terrible because it would be an expansion of government. In fact, the Tea Party has denounced more Medicaid as tyranny.

Well, I think that’s nonsense; I don’t think extending an already existing benefit to more people is expanding government.

Nor do I understand the argument that so-called Obamacare is socialism. Requiring people to buy health insurance from a private insurer doesn’t meet the textbook definition of socialism.

It is now time to face the truth, and I want to warn listeners that I am about to say something truly shocking that does not involve sex.

Okay, here goes. I like government. And if you are willing to be honest, you may have to admit that you like it too.

I like a “nanny state” that makes sure there is no coliform bacteria in my drinking water and no rat feces in my food. I want an intrusive government to make sure the streets are plowed and the street lights are on. I want a tyrannical state that insists our children learn reading, writing arithmetic, and the Internet.

I like being forced to pay some of my hard-earned money for the cops and the fire department to be there when I need them.

And I wish government would raise our taxes so that new generations can have their own rendezvous with destiny by attending college. True, I don’t want government tapping my phone or reading my e-mail. Like most people, I have been occasionally frustrated by bureaucracy. Yet government is also largely how civilization works. That doesn’t mean we have to be socialists. Socialism doesn’t really work, because it kills incentive for innovation. Sad as it is to admit, a purely socialist society would probably never have produced an Iphone.

But there’s nothing wrong with encouraging a flourishing capitalist society to pay more taxes to support a healthy public sector, including good roads, bridges and parks.

Before you have a fainting spell, you might want to consider that in the nineteen-fifties, the top tax rate in this country was ninety percent. Millionaires back then didn’t split for the Cayman Islands. They stayed here and got richer. Nobody pays even a third of that rate today. But we complain about taxes constantly.

We have a lot of problems that could be largely solved by paying more in taxes and getting more from governments.

Saying so today may be taboo. But it is also very true.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Jack Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee the University of Michigan.