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Friday, February 14, 2020

Socialism in the Wyoming Constitution

I never thought I would see this from lawmakers in Wyoming. 

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Representatives Sweeney, Brown, Clifford, Connolly, Furphy, Henderson, Yin and Zwonitzer are the sponsors of HJ7.

Consistent with applicable federal law in place as of the first day of January, 2021, the state shall provide Medicaid benefits to the greatest extent possible to low income residents of the state whose income is at or below one hundred thirty-eight percent (138%) of the federal poverty level. The legislature may by general law restrict the state from providing Medicaid benefits in addition to those that were in place on the date prescribed in this subsection should applicable federal law change after that date in a manner that expands eligibility for Medicaid benefits or otherwise increases the financial obligation of the state under the Medicaid program.
I am not going to beat about the bush here. I grew up in Bernie Sanders' America. I don't think it is awfully funny to start poking around with a socialist stick in our state's constitution.

I realize that none of these legislators are socialists. They are good-hearted people with a nice, respectable intention to care for the poor. But the consequences of how they go about it are entirely antithetical to their socially conservative ambition. 

Frankly, I don't think they quite understand what they are playing with here, but that makes it all the more important for me to put a foot down.

There is this widespread misunderstanding among Americans of what socialism really is all about. People think that socialism begins when government seizes control over the means of production; if the federal government took over Apple, FedEx and John Deere, America would be going socialist. 

That, however, is not the beginning of socialism. It is the end of socialism and the beginning of communism.

Socialism starts much earlier than that. Socialism has a purpose that ultimately, in its extreme, forces a metamorphosis into communism. I am making this point not with any direct reference to HJ7, only to make clear what socialism is not about.

By understanding what socialism is not, we can understand what it actually is: economic redistribution. Socialism is about taking money from Jack to give to Joe because government for purely egalitarian purposes, in other words to reduce and eventually eliminate economic differences between individual citizens. 

The bill to constitutionalize Medicaid in Wyoming is not written with this goal in mind. The legislators behind HJ7 are of the good old social-conservative mindset: it is the taxpayer's moral duty to care for the poor. However, while that may be their intention, it is certainly not the function of their bill. 

An entitlement program like Medicaid has an explicitly redistributive function. It is designed to provide a service to a group of entitled citizens on the basis of reducing economic differences in the economy. While, again, the authors of HJ7 do not think they are furthering a socialist ideological goal by writing Medicaid into the constitution, they unwittingly make themselves conduits for that very goal. 

We never think of programs like Medicaid as socialist, but it is actually socialist in its architecture. That does not mean our U.S. government is socialist, let alone that America is a socialist country. A nation can exhibit socialist characteristics without being socialist; likewise, a socialist country can have capitalist characteristics without being capitalist. Sweden is a good example of a socialist country with capitalist characteristics

Socialists are actually good at advancing their egalitarian goal under a "democratic" prefix. By growing their roster of entitlement programs little by little, over an extended period of time, they make a country take small, incremental steps in the socialist direction. Many people unknowingly accept the premise of socialist incrementalism without having any idea that this is what they do. 

Medicaid Expansion is a case in point. It is another small step toward single-payer health care; paid family leave is a small step toward single-payer family income security. Social Security serves a similar purpose when it comes to retirement security (and yes, Social Security is highly redistributive in its function).

The "democratic" socialist strives to reach a critical mass of economic redistribution and government control, whereupon he makes his country flip from capitalist-with-socialism to socialist-with-capitalism. 

One of the most common pathways for "democratic" socialism to advance is under the banner of social, compassionate conservatism. The idea that government must care for the poor - instead of an elaborate sector of private charitable institutions - helps the "democratic" socialist win over key opponents as allies. Once a program is in place to help the poor, the definition of the poor slowly morphs into "needy", then "low income".

Medicaid is a good example. The program redistributes consumption of health care under a limited eligibility cap - a cap that has grown significantly over time. For example, in 2002, the earliest year with comprehensive health-insurance data from the Census Bureau, a total of 11 percent of all Americans were enrolled in Medicaid. About one in four, 24, percent, of all kids were insured under the program. By 2018, those numbers had grown to, respectively, 22 and 38 percent.* 

If Medicaid enrollment had been at the same population share in 2018 as it was in 2002, there would have been 35.8 million fewer Americans on tax-paid health insurance.

To expand Medicaid beyond providing for the poor is to expand an ideological ambition of economic redistribution. To do it constitutionally is to put that socialist ambition on steroids. Not even a socialist country like Sweden has written economic redistribution into the constitution. Not one of the four the four pillars of the Swedish constitution mandates that government pay for people's health care. It is still done through a mass of statutes and established spending programs, but it is not constitutionally mandated.

There are, simply, monumental unintended consequences of HJ7, consequences that I am sure the sponsors have not considered. If we can put Medicaid in the constitution, what else will go in there? Presumably, the motive behind HJ7 is that health care is a necessity. But so are food, shelter, clothes and the means of transportation. Should the Wyoming constitution mandate that taxpayers pay for those items as well?

We already provide for the poor through a list of programs. We have SNAP, WIC, TANF, HEAP, housing programs, regular Medicaid... 

The U.S. constitution does not give people entitlements. It protects people's God given rights and freedoms. The Wyoming constitution should do the same. It should not be a tool for socialist policy experiments.

I left Bernie Sanders' America. It is only in my nightmares I wake up there again.

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*) The definition of a child changes during this period, from everyone under 18 to everyone under 19. This is to include high school seniors. The change of the definition is not significant enough to account for more than a fraction of the increase in child Medicaid enrollment. 

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