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More on Obama's War on Catholics ... and Civil Society

Ross Douthat's op-ed, "Government and its Rivals" picks up on Jonathan Last's theme in my post below and accurately frames Obamacare's assault on the Church within the context of liberals' war against communities and aspects of the civil society which are not either liberal or pet agencies of the government.

WHEN liberals are in a philosophical mood, they like to cast debates over the role of government not as a clash between the individual and the state, but as a conflict between the individual and the community.


Critics of the administration's policy are framing this as a religious liberty issue, and rightly so. But what's at stake here is bigger even than religious freedom. The Obama White House's decision is a threat to any kind of voluntary community that doesn't share the moral sensibilities of whichever party controls the health care bureaucracy.

Douthat has also quoted and responded to his critics on the issue in a rejoinder titled, "Liberals and Catholic Hospitals."

It is impossible to speak intelligently on this subject without confronting the practical issues and principles raised in these two articles (and several of the articles to which they link). 

Obama's attempt to weaken and destroy Catholic institutions is both morally and socially repugnant. On the first prong, he is abusively employing the power of the government to force liberal social policies on private groups (whose "diversity" and liberty is apparently of little value to Obama). Secondly, the result of Obama's campaign would be to weaken America's social services for the poor and needs, who are presently served in large numbers by Catholic charitable institutions. It is no coincidence that liberal policies are both unprincipled and socially harmful.

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Discussions - 5 Comments

I started through the comments on the NYT site. I gave up after about 5 because most of these people did have a clue as to what the actual issue is: forcing a religious issue to provide a product or service that is morally objectionable to them.

I had thought the NYT readers, while liberal, were at least literate and possessed an average level of reading comprehension. Unfortunately, that is not true.

Rick Caird, I wouldn't have looked, but you're right. The comments make no reference to conscience, except to complain that anyone who has one is an inconvenience to society (them) and ought to cut it out. I do not think the problem is reading comprehension. The problem is that those people are unprincipled as a matter of principle. Therefore, they have no sympathy for religious principles, moral principles, and their idea of "the good" leaves no room for those. As Douthat says, a culture war is upon us.

I think you guys stumbled unto to something here.

It can seem like the original tea party (we are going to dump this tea in the harbor, because we don't want precedent that says King George can tax us).

On the other hand it does appear to be a very small distinction. Catholic hospitals providing insurance to employees that with a large size group barganning power probably would not amount to over $50 per employee per year.

If the employee wanted to buy it, it would cost closer to $200 ( secondary assumption other than barganning power/economies of scale, if you are buying it you expect to use it.)

A lot of businesses (especially those who are not religious) would prefer having a bureaucracy to dealing with a union. It is easier to have labor law rules that take certain barganning elements off the table. Even Unions generally concede the point.

Private sector economic analysis would say unions are wastefull and this sort of moral distinction based sticking point is irrational. After all it is really a lot of noise over $50 and the distinction between paying for something directly and indirectly is irrational(since obviously an employee could use their paycheck to buy any such service they want.) They basically say following a varient of the Coase theorum, everything is fungible. Pay the $50 and simply scale salary raises to recoup the cost. The reading level of the NYT reader is solid, but a good deal of the reasoning is basically the economics of freakonomics (also available at NYT). These folks don't like moral distinctions which get in the way of simple economic solutions.

If you had unions certainly these could negotiate around moral sticking points, but they would also be mindfull of history and prevent the employer from eliminating a service/insurance and also supressing wages.

So in general the NYT reader prefers the efficiency of bureaucracy and set standards which cannot be negotiated, to dealing with unions.

Of course, "the Obama White House's decision is a threat to any kind of voluntary community that doesn't share the moral sensibilities of whichever party controls the health care bureaucracy."

But bureaucracy qua bureaucracy is a threat to moral sensibilities period, because it is all about systemically eliminating them by turning them into fungible propositions that can be assigned a dollar cost. Moral sensibilities lead to arguments, and to overcharged rhetoric about "WAR". Lets use "law and economics" push everything into a fungible product, and eliminate consentable catagories, thus reducing search time and knowledge opportunity costs.

This I assert is how things really stand. Neither the individual nor the community has much barganning power, or much ability to contract in a way that respects the dignity and the true concerns of the opposing side. There isn't a ton of difference between the tea party, the occupy movement, the catholic church, or labor. Everyone is just sort of looking around and saying: I can't really bargain can I?

The answer of course is that on account of judicial/administrative and market efficiency, you can't.

You don't get "conservatism", you get a republican and probably Romney. You don't get "progressivism", you get a democrat and certainly Obama.

You get the form contract! (It is a good deal on tea so you better love it!) "the Obama administration is going to frog-march this invaluable institution forward into a (capitalist) future, and put all that it does for the poor — things that nobody else can do — at risk?"

Sure, because the Catholic Church would look like the kid who took his football and went home, if it closed down its hospitals over a moral distinction that Capitalism(Freakonomics/Coase) has already rendered fungible.

There are two very simple solutions for this problem: either a) stop providing health insurance for their employees, or b) maintain their religious exemption by hiring only Catholic employees. Conservatives should praise the first option while Catholics should praise the second.

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