What the Obamacare Shipwreck Tells Us About Liberalism: Part One

Have you ever tried to read the Affordable Care Act? Here it is; go ahead, take a crack at it. The law is, to put it mildly, complicated. It is over 1,000 pages long and has many moving parts that interact in various ways. I have read large chunks of the Affordable Care Act, although not the whole thing. Life is too short for that. Reading and interpreting statutes is something that I have done for a living for several decades now, but there is no way that anyone can hope to read the ACA and understand how it is intended to work, or–this is the real point–predict what will happen when all of its many interlocking requirements, mandates and prohibitions come into contact with reality. And that is before you get to the thousands of pages of regulations that have been issued to implement the law.

Obamacare is a vast Rube Goldberg machine that, it turns out, doesn’t work at all–an airplane that has crashed on takeoff. And the fiasco that we have seen so far is only the tip of the iceberg. The thing will unravel further and cause even more damage and disruption if a stake isn’t driven through its heart soon. What does this episode reveal about the nature of liberalism?

One obvious lesson is that liberalism fails to appreciate the complexity of the world. The hubris required by the Democrats’ attempt to reorder not just a large sector of the economy, but an important part of the lives of millions of strangers, is breathtaking. Recognizing, at least dimly, the difficulty of the task, the Democrats responded by trying to draft a law whose complexity would match that of the reality that it tried to control. That made the situation worse, not better: the more convoluted the statute became, the more unworkable it was. Friedrich Hayek, call your office!

Obamacare also illustrates the inordinate faith that many liberals have in the power of words. Various aspects of reality are not as liberals would like them to be. What is the solution? The magical power of words: reams and reams of paper covered with sections and subsections, commands and requirements. If they can only get the words right, reality will certainly fall into line, just as liberals want it to be!

Words do have a certain power, and legislation can of course impact reality, for better and worse. But the idea that a stack of paper could encounter a vast reality consisting of 300 million people, trillions of dollars, doctors, nurses and hospitals, pharmaceutical and insurance companies, and the result would be that malleable reality would mold itself seamlessly to a blueprint that was never more than a fantasy–only a liberal could expect that to happen. We conservatives, most of us anyway, expected Obamacare to be a train wreck.

The collapse of Obamacare, of which we have seen only the beginning, is a rare teaching opportunity. More to come.

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