The (Old) Mickey Kaus Argument In Favor of Universal Healthcare
The always entertaining self-hating Democrat Mickey Kaus has supported Obamacare (“mess that it is”) all along.
But it’s his older argument in favor of universal healthcare more generally, as found in his influential 1992 book The End of Equality(find a New Republic magazine adaptation here), that has me feeling … let’s say equable … about the long national nightmare of Obamacare.
Kaus’s End of Equality argument, in short, was this: You can’t just have the good parts of globally competitive meritocracy. Inequality is/was going to increase. Old-school, Mondale-style reactionary liberalism, which tries to mitigate inequality through redistribution, won’t help, because you can’t create more social mobility simply by throwing more cash around. The then-novel “Skills Solution” liberalism — a la Bill Clinton and, more recently, Barack Obama — is of limited use, too. More job training programs, Pell Grants, apprenticeships, “ladders of opportunity” — try these all you want, Kaus argued, but the cream is still going to rise to the top, and the hereditarily disadvantaged are consequently going to end up feeling even more like losers.
If only for its predictive power, Kaus’s thesis, 20 years later, seems spot-on.
Kaus’s prescription was to accept the brave new world and to try to revitalize a “civic sphere” of equality. Programmatically, Kaus favored things like reinstituting the draft or AmeriCorps-style national service. In retrospect, this sounds a lot like the dodgy sort of National Greatness conservatism that was popular at the Weekly Standard in those all-too-leisurely Clinton years. (Two ugly foreign wars later, we hear a lot less of this today.)
More practically, Kaus also embraced universal healthcare.
It remains compelling to me how the welfare-reform-supporting Kaus framed this choice: Universal healthcare is not a limit on capitalism so much as it’s a tradeoff for more capitalism. The process of deregulation and global economic connectivity that began in the late 1970s, which historian Edward Luttwak later dubbed “Turbo-capitalism,” exposed workers to the vicissitudes of market capitalism more than they’d ever been throughout the 20th century.
For Kaus, universal healthcare is the tribute the new cosmopolitan elite must pay to fellow citizens who have become radically less secure.
You may not buy this idea, dear readers. But I thought I’d at least share it with you so you know where I’m coming from.