The State's Incentives

State funded health care necessarily incentivizes the state to increase the number of abortions, the practice of euthanasia, and the availability of contraceptives.  The state is also perhaps paradoxically incentivized to regulate with great precision the habits of its citizens with specific regard to food, alcohol, tobacco, and exercise. This brief commentary will explain why this is the case and some of the first order ramifications for our culture.

One must begin with a clear conception of the nature of the modern state. The state is not a charitable organization with infinite resources, but a bureaucratic machine whose goal must be to efficiently collect and redistribute the wealth of its citizens. This collection and redistribution process is necessary to maintain the services (like health care) and programs the state provides for its citizens, for the state cannot create wealth and prosperity <i>ex nihilo</i> – persons create wealth and the state can only subsist off the wealth of these persons.  The state has a budget and it must maintain its budget and eventually pay its debts, or the state will risk war with lending countries.  In all of this it is clear that the primary interest of the state is not its citizens but money or wealth, for the collection and redistribution of money is the state’s modus operandi.

The state is interested in increasing abortions for the following, hopefully intuitive, reason.  Abortion causes the death of an individual person, and death in general alleviates the financial and technical burden of the state (the less people within the state’s provision, the more effective the state’s control can be).  The death of the young and the death of the old are of particular interest to the state, because these groups of people require the most care and the most money.

It follows from the same logic that contraception, which cuts off the source of life, is highly regarded by the state.  The state may even have an interest in increasing the availability of contraception in populations that are particularly burdensome to the state.  The state has an interest in maximizing the number of contributors to the state’s wealth, and also maintaining or minimizing the number of people who are dependent on the state.  Contraception helps the state attain this goal.

Finally it is worth mentioning that this also applies, maybe especially, to the practice of euthanasia, which no doubt will be legal in our country soon.  Old people are perhaps the most expensive to care for, and so they will be the most expendable.  This will be further justified by the state’s alleged virtue of alleviating the suffering of its citizens, its true motives obscure from common public view.

In abbreviated terms, the state has an interest in minimizing the number of people for which it is responsible, and will accomplish this goal through the means of abortion, contraception and euthanasia. But this is only one half of the picture, only one means by which the state controls its citizens.  The second is more insidious but less morally serious.

Let’s say you eat too much sodium.  Too many cheeseburgers, or something. You will eventually require expensive health care, which is the responsibility of the state. But the state does not want to pay for your bad habits. It needs to reduce the money it spends, and so it has to regulate sodium consumption. But it doesn’t regulate abortion because abortion eliminates the need to provide care for anyone in the first place. I suspect sodium is just the first in a long line of things that will be regulated. “It’s for the common good!”

The state is thus concerned with the de-regulation and indeed proliferation of some things, and the precise regulation and control of others.  The state is both liberal and illiberal, but it is above everything and directs the affairs of everyone.  In the process it fosters a culture that is opposed to traditional morality and common sense.  All people of good faith and good will ought to oppose the very far-reaching actions of the state.  Limited government is a public good not because the government is evil but because there are practical limitations on what the government can be expected to do without having to disrespect the dignity of the human person.

6 Responses to The State's Incentives

  • I would say that this:

    the state cannot create wealth and prosperity ex nihilo – persons create wealth and the state can only subsist off the wealth of these persons.

    is in conflict with this:

    The state is interested in increasing abortions for the following, hopefully intuitive, reason. Abortion causes the death of an individual person, and death in general alleviates the financial and technical burden of the state (the less people within the state’s provision, the more effective the state’s control can be).

    If people are the source of a state’s wealth (as I agree is the case), then killing them off would be counter-productive, no?

  • If people are the source of a state’s wealth (as I agree is the case), then killing them off would be counter-productive, no?

    I think a minor modification reconciles the tension pretty easily. Poorer individuals who require high levels of public assistance and who are more likely to end up in prison are a net drain on the state’s resources; the state has a clear financial incentive to encourage abortions among people in this socio-economic class. Of course, providing support for the poor is in itself an incentive at the individual level that cuts strongly the other way; a person is more likely to carry a child to term if they know they will receive some support from the state. But as reliance on social programs increases, the state has more and more reasons to encourage abortion.

  • In addition, the state is incentivized to keep people who are deemed “non-productive” – e.g., the elderly, the chronically sick, the disabled, etc. – from being a “drain on resources”.

  • Just as many libertarians correctly state that incentives and economic structure matter, but then fail to consider the many ways in which the content and morality of a population matter more, so too does the managerial state try to correctly “control costs” while failing to consider the many ways in which its own behavior and incentives only feed into the problems.

    And so you are right that the state is both liberal and illiberal. Its liberalism is inherently flawed and doomed to failure, because “equal freedom” (liberalism) is impossible so long as humans are human (wonderfully unequal, even as we possess the same equal moral worth in the eyes of God, and hopefully in the eyes of each other).

    To take your topic of health care, how can the state fund health care while at the same time fund that which makes us unhealthy (the massive overproduction of corn first and foremost)?

    They can because of ideology, romanticism, hubris. Humans, especially our governing classes, are rationalizing creatures, not rational ones (if only libertarians realized this as well).

  • I suppose one could argue that if the state takes a short-term view, it would support abortions in an effort to cut costs. But to be honest, I don’t see it as likely. (For the same reason that I don’t buy the argument that insurance companies push abortions to cut costs.)

    I’d see much more danger in regards to euthenasia (or more likely — denial of care resulting in sooner death) and lots of nanny-ism as regards personal habits, since these are activities people are likely to accept from the state in the interest of “fairness” and the “common good”, when they would rebel if similar restrictions came from for-profit entities such as insurers.

    More generally, however, I’m not sure how much I agree with this:

    The state has a budget and it must maintain its budget and eventually pay its debts, or the state will risk war with lending countries. In all of this it is clear that the primary interest of the state is not its citizens but money or wealth, for the collection and redistribution of money is the state’s modus operandi

    I’m not clear that it makes sense to view the state as such an independant entity. It’s true that states seem to act out of a certain kind of self interest — however it seems to me that this is primarily the result of the combination of the interest of the rulers and the interest of the ruled — a balance set by the extent to which the one depends on the other.

  • Thanks all for the very thoughtful comments. While I certainly did not clearly address the conflict Blackadder points out, it did cross my mind while writing this.

    I’m not sure the conflict can be completely resolved, and I definitely think something of it is really there. John Henry gets at a possible resolution. But in any event, some of the state’s interests are certainly in conflict with its other interests. This, I guess, is natural. The practical and the significant question is which interest wins out, i.e. how does the state actually act. I’m not sure about all of this and I need to think about it a bit more.

    Darwin I think you rightly point out that I might be stretching the whole argument by including abortion. I do think that there is a logical incentive for the state to encourage abortions, but this does not mean the state acts this out (and indeed it probably doesn’t).

    If anything, the logical incentive to abort might eb restricted to influencing quacks only, or maybe it is reason for tolerating the legal abortion regime (overpopulation concerns, etc).

    You’re also right that I’m sort of abusing the term state; I’m being reductionistic in limiting the state’s motives as I did. I confess it is partially because of the limited time I have to write things like this, but more realistically because from time to time I am intellectually lazy. If I were to amend this I would try to treat the nature of the modern political state with more nuance and precision.

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