Monday, February 06, 2012

Government knows best

Megan McArdle has a good point about the controversy over the Obama administration's decision to force Catholic hospitals and charities offer coverage of abortion.
I've seen several versions of Kevin's complaint on the interwebs, and everyone [who] makes it seems to assume that we're doing the Catholic Church a big old favor by allowing them to provide health care and other social services to a needy public. Why, we're really coddling them, and it's about time they started acting a little grateful for everything we've done for them!

These people seem to be living in an alternate universe that I don't have access to, where there's a positive glut of secular organizations who are just dying to provide top-notch care for the sick, the poor, and the dispossessed.

In the universe where I live, some of the best charity care is provided by religious groups--in part because they have extremely strong fundraising capabilities, in part because they often have access to an extremely deep and motivated pool of volunteers, and in part because they are often able to generate significant returns to scale and longevity. And of course, the comparative discretion and decentralization of private charity, religious or secular, makes it much more effective in many (not all ways) than government entitlements.
Yes, but in the Obamanians' eyes, no charity is as efficacious as the government. And the government is more qualified to make these sorts of decisions on behalf of everyone.

Rod Dreher adds on.
Here’s the thing: in an abstract world, they might have a point about the confusion that would result if every religious employer demanded exemptions from every federal regulation that even slightly impinged upon its conscience. But we do not live in that world. We live in a world in which a concrete entity, the Roman Catholic Church, runs, more or less, a large number of medical, educational, and other charity-oriented institutions As McArdle says, many of these facilities and institutions serve the poor. Where are the secular liberal organizations running schools for inner-city kids, in many cases not even Catholic kids, and offering them the best chance they have at a decent education? On the trivial matter of providing for a relatively cheap and easy to obtain product — contraception — the Obama administration is going to frog-march this invaluable institution forward into a progressive future, and put all that it does for the poor — things that nobody else can do — at risk?
And then Dreher adds in an interesting thought experiment regarding Orthodox Jews to explain the point that it doesn't matter if the bien pensants don't understand why adherents of a particular religion believe as they do. That is not for the government to fathom.

Ross Douhat refutes another point that supporters of the Obama administration decision raise.

And Ross Douhat refutes
Drum asks us to envision a Muslim-run hospital that required its employees to bind themselves to Shariah law. But the analogy is hopelessly flawed, because the typical Catholic hospital doesn’t require its employees to follow Catholic doctrine in their personal lives — on sexual matters or anything else. The Church isn’t asking for the right to fire an employee for missing Mass on Sunday or for coveting his neighbor’s wife. It just doesn’t want its institutions to be legally required to pay for acts that it considers immoral, as the price of running hospitals at all. (Or to pay for them directly, since obviously an employee could use their paycheck to buy any produce or service they so chose.) This isn’t the equivalent of a hypothetical Muslim hospital demanding, say, that all its employees permanently abstain from pork and alcohol and premarital sex. It’s the equivalent of a hypothetical Muslim hospital declining to stock Playboy in its gift shop, or serve pork and alcohol in its cafeteria.

Finally, Drum’s broader logic is a textbook example of what I was talking about in my column on Sunday — the way that government crowds out and co-opts the private sphere, first by making it impossible to run an institution that serves the public without having some sort of entanglement with the state, and then by using that entanglement to pretend that institutions with explicit religious missions and histories are somehow de facto secular instead. Once the state grows large enough, there will always be some theoretical justification available for imposing a governmental norm — or, more aptly, a purely partisan one — on private institutions that seek to go their own way instead. But the mere fact that such justifications can be dreamed up by creative regulators doesn’t make them reasonable or just.
But that is just the problem with "creative regulators." They always think that they know best and ignorant opponents should just fall in line. Their confidence in their own superior reasoning is supreme.