Ratchet, revisited

Just a brief thought: One of the reasons many Americans feel uncomfortable with the sweeping health care proposals of the Obama administration may be that they realize there will be no turning back once a new huge redistribution machinery has been set in place.

The phenomenon known as the ratchet effect has been observed in several fields. In political economy, Robert Higgs has used the term to describe the ever-growing reach and extent of governmental influence over the ives of individuals.

The characteristic of a ratchet is that once it has been moved one further notch, it will not be moved back, no matter what. Empirical proof in the political realm comes from the Reagan presidency, easily the most conservative in over half a century, and one that was energized to roll back some of the perceived excesses of the welfare state. History has shown that it failed at that objective; the best that can be said for the Reagan years in that regard is that they slowed the growth of the welfare state.

The health-care reform is the largest new liberal project since the Johnson presidency; a reform that will create huge new bureaucracies, inefficiencies and dependencies and will, much like the FDR and LBJ programs, serve to redistribute cash to subpopulations and client groups likely to vote the Democratic ticket. A reform with such large implications should be debated vigorously, and opposition to it is not un-American.

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