Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness: rights we declare to be inalienable. Government's job is to safeguard those rights. And the individual, in return, bears certain obligations to society.
Ideally, individual and societal needs balance each other, but capitalism is not an even-handed process. Innovation, for example, constantly tests this equilibrium. Though necessary, it can be disruptive, and while it benefits lots of individuals, it often disadvantages some along the way. This, though, is what we all expect from risk-taking.
Occasionally, innovation's utility inverts, and a few gain at the expense of many. Wall Street's meltdown is one such occurrence. Another could be health care's collapse.
Both industries allocate necessary resources: capital allocation and medical care. While we may want limitless access to these services – may even consider that access a moral right – they remain economic products, created by the sweat of someone's brow, and can't be conjured at will to satisfy our boundless human appetites.
And while both have long been heavily regulated, they now confront even deeper Beltway involvement.
In the financial industry, government justified massive new intrusion with warnings of "systemic risk" and "too big to fail." And in return for the bailouts, it's aiming to rewrite rules, including the prospect of "guidelines" (and we all know what that means) on compensation.
In health care, government is already forcing the system to operate in a single payer fashion. Using complex, committee-determined pricing formulas, it has effectively dictated physician pay since the early 1990s. Commercial health plans such as Aetna or Cigna could never undercut Medicare, and, in fact, reimburse at much higher levels.
Unlike any other aspect of our economy, supply (physicians) does not actually transact with demand (consumers). As a result, there's no means to define value.
So, back to the individual. How, in the example of government-sponsored health care, do the rights of taxpayers and patients intersect? What if my tax bill increases to fund the consequences of another person's bad behavior? Could I demand that government denies all high-risk individuals any access whatsoever to cigarettes, booze or fatty-foods?
Or, is government defining societal need as something favoring the patient? Is it, in fact, requiring a moral obligation of me? What does this say for innovation?
Health care reform raises many issues, none more fundamental than the individual.
Rather than forcing collective answers, we should work towards a system that empowers the individual and his inalienable right to make informed decisions.
Disclosure: no positions