I wrote last Friday about "3rd rails" in American politics; programs like Social Security and Medicare that, no matter how wasteful, politicians can’t substantially deal with.  The reason is that the government has made promises, people have reordered their lives around those promises, and thus any attempt to change the conditions of those promises is met with vehement opposition.

This, then, is related to the eternal life of government programs.  Part of the reason some of these programs live on is because the promises made and the responsibility to live up to them and honor them.  The problem is, we have to honor them even if doing so bankrupts us (or, more specifically, future generations).  We have to honor them even if the money could be spent more efficiently another way, getting the same job done only with better results.  We are already saddled with debt because of some of these huge programs, but are also saddled with current and future promised payments that we can’t afford now, and thus will have to tell our children to make good on.

Is that moral?

Some have said that it’s immoral not to take care of the elderly and infirmed, but by doing it on the backs of our children and grandchildren, is that really the more moral route?  With the health care reform bill, we are making promises that future generations must pay for.  And we are making promises that they may not be able to afford at all after this generation has already spent their inheritance on previous promises made.

And, as I noted previously, no matter what you hear from any politician on how much this or that program will cost, it will cost more.  History is strewn with so many examples of this that anyone believing these numbers is utterly ignorant, willfully or otherwise. 

Making promises binds us to honor them, which is a good thing.  But making promises with an inefficient bureaucracy binds us to a millstone that will continue to take us down with its unsustainable load, and we can’t afford that.

Filed under: Ethics & MoralityGovernmentMedicine

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