Here’s how it starts: State governments require taxpayers to support emergency rooms at public hospitals. They further require motorists to purchase accident insurance. Because these mandates cause costs to rise, the states feel justified in requiring users of such services — especially, for example, motorcyclists involved in traffic accidents — to purchase helmets to protect their heads against costly injury. That sounds fair. A precedent is set.
Later, the federal government passes a law that guarantees health care for everyone. Because this mandate causes medical costs to rise, the Feds feel justified in requiring every citizen — especially members of the middle class — to purchase health insurance to protect the Feds against the increasing costs of paying for everyone else. That sounds fair. A precedent is set.
Never before has the federal government tried to require that Americans buy something. If this approach succeeds, what will follow? Before long — to help lower health-care costs — the Feds will require that each of us purchase a certain number of fruits and vegetables per day to strengthen our health, and we’ll have to prove it with grocery lists submitted to our health-care professionals. We’ll also have to buy vitamins, in consultation with our doctors, to prevent costly deficiency illnesses. Then we’ll be forced to prove we’re getting enough exercise every day, either through the purchase of health-club memberships (from a list of accepted providers) or by obtaining exercise equipment. We’ll probably have to buy and keep a log that shows a record of our workouts. We may also be required to buy vacation time in rural settings, to improve the lung function of urban dwellers; this mandate will be enthusiastically supported by the tourist lobbies (and, ironically, by the oil companies who provide the pollution-laced energy that transports us to those vacation spots).
Once this precedent has settled in, Washington will realize it’s a simple matter to require that all Americans purchase goods and services from any industry deemed to be in need of assistance. Hence, we will have to provide annual proof of the music CDs we have bought (to protect the struggling music industry) and the number of copies we’ve printed (to protect paper companies from the digital office), along with evidence of subscription to at least one newspaper and one magazine (to protect the media from the Internet), receipts from the market to prove we’ve bought a minimum of beef (to protect the dwindling cattle industry; vegetarians can get excuse slips from their doctors), and at least one ticket per month to a qualified arts event or museum (so they can stop begging from the government).
Of course, certain awkward situations may arise. For example, the sugar lobby — which already has succeeded in cutting competition by having the government place onerous import restrictions on foreign sugar — might obtain legislation that requires us to purchase a minimum amount of its relatively expensive product; on the other hand, laws may be enacted that make it a misdemeanor to consume sugar, on the grounds that it is bad for us and increases health-care costs. In this way, we may be forced to purchase a foodstuff that is illegal. But these are minor issues, easily resolved in legislative conference.
Nearly half your paycheck ends up in government hands already; it wouldn’t take much effort for the authorities to find ways to spend most of the rest of it. In this way, the dream of so many — finally to have someone else in charge, deciding how we should live our lives by directing how we spend our money, thereby keeping everything stable and fair — would be realized.
Welcome to the Brave New World of Mandates.