Speaking of mandates

SPEAKING OF MANDATES…. Way back in October, a regular reader by the name of B.G. emailed me with a compelling thought.

Opposition to the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act is grounded on the theory that the Government does not have the constitutional authority under the Commerce Clause to require an individual citizen to purchase a product in the private market. (For what it’s worth, I don’t agree with the theory.)

However, conservatives/Tea Partiers/Republicans to a man/woman support (at least in theory) privatizing Social Security, and requiring citizens to contribute money, that would have otherwise been paid into Social Security, to individual investment accounts which would be managed by private entities for a fee.

If conservatives are correct that the Government does not have the constitutional authority under the Commerce Clause to require citizens to purchase a private product, wouldn’t that also be an argument against the privatization of Social Security?

I remember thinking at the time, “That’s a good point. I should do something with this.” At which point, I forgot all about it. (It was right before the midterms; I was distracted.)

Fortunately, B.G. wasn’t the only one thinking about these lines. Jonathan Cohn, as part of a very persuasive pitch that the right is arguing against the health care law in bad faith, makes a related argument today.

You remember privatization, don’t you? The idea was to take Social Security, a mandatory public pension program, and turn it into a system of mandatory personal investment accounts. The schemes evolved over time, with different details, but the gist was always the same. During your working years, you’d make contributions into the accounts, just like you currently pay taxes that fill the Social Security Trust. Over time, you would invest the money in your private account — that is, you’d buy stocks, bonds, and so on — typically within certain guidelines set by the government. Once you hit retirement, you’d start to withdraw from the accounts or perhaps purchase an annuity, relying on subsequent payments for your financial security.

Conservatives presumably thought privatization was constitutional; otherwise, they would not have worked so feverishly to enact it. But if the principle holds for old-age insurance, it ought to hold for medical insurance, too. In other words, if it’s ok for the government to make you pay for regulated private investments, then it should be ok for the government to make you pay for regulated private health insurance. Yet, as far as I can tell, the folks who spent all of those years promoting Social Security as an all-American, free market innovation are the same ones that now insist the Affordable Care Act is an unprecedented threat to liberty.

It’s almost as if the right, lacking in intellectual consistency, hasn’t thought through the practical implications of its ideological agenda.

I’ll look forward to seeing conservatives’ reaction to Cohn’s (and B.G.’s) point.