photo credit: Cheryl’s Art Box

Last week, Utah Senator Howard Stephenson (who represents the area in which I live) announced a new law he has sponsored titled “Clay’s Law”, named after Clay Whiffen. Clay was diagnosed with autism at an early age, and was put through an expensive treatment plan by his parents that allowed him to overcome the issues he had been subjected to by his autism.

Clay’s mother, Leeann, has since written a book about the experience, organized a Utah Autism Coalition, and assisted in drafting the new legislation Senator Stephenson has sponsored.

This proposed bill requires insurance companies to provide coverage for autism-related treatment to the tune of up to $50,000 per year, depending on the child’s age. Proponents argue that the inevitable increase in monthly insurance premiums would be minimal, and in the long run cost taxpayers far less money than the alternative of having these children place a burden upon the “system” in later years as they mature and are in need of more social services.

Regardless of the alleged money to be saved (and ignoring the alternative that that money would be better saved by shutting down all such social government enterprises), it is important to consider whether this action is justified and proper at all. Parents of autistic children—like any social group that stands to financially benefit—are here clamoring for the strong arm of the law to side with them and help them do what they otherwise could not do on their own. Burdened with heavy medical bills and frustrated with unmerciful insurance policies, they desire to force their neighbors to help them shoulder the load.

Whether it is through direct taxation or a government-mandated insurance coverage increase, the underlying principle is the same. Socialism in all its forms is unethical, despite its general popularity and ability to induce strong emotional responses. Were the opponents of Clay’s Law, such as myself, to express our sympathy for parents of autistic children in having to meet these large financial obligations for desired treatment, we would no doubt be met with disbelief—after all, if we really do care for these children, why not make it mandatory to help them? This argument, though, is based on the false assumption that if one supports an activity, one should support laws requiring and implementing it for everybody. Showing the antiquity of this argument, Frédéric Bastiat wrote over 150 years ago about this exact fallacy:

It would seem that socialists, however self-complacent, could not avoid seeing this monstrous legal plunder that results from such systems and such efforts. But what do the socialists do? They cleverly disguise this legal plunder from others — and even from themselves — under the seductive names of fraternity, unity, organization, and association. Because we ask so little from the law — only justice — the socialists thereby assume that we reject fraternity, unity, organization, and association. The socialists brand us with the name individualist.

But we assure the socialists that we repudiate only forced organization, not natural organization. We repudiate the forms of association that are forced upon us, not free association. We repudiate forced fraternity, not true fraternity. We repudiate the artificial unity that does nothing more than deprive persons of individual responsibility. We do not repudiate the natural unity of mankind under Providence.

Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all.

We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain. (Frédéric Bastiat, The Law)

I do sympathize with the parents of autistic children, and I feel sorry for the financial strain that treatment entails. But unlike some others, my sympathy does not translate into support for socialism. The government has no moral role in compelling a private company to offer its services to an individual. If an insurance company in the future does decide to offer coverage for these treatments, then that’s great—they should be left free to choose whether that is an option they wish to pursue.

Mandating coverage, though, is hardly the appropriate course of action. Imagine your favorite car company designing a prototype that has all the latest bells and whistles. This is the car of your dreams, but it’s far beyond what your wallet can handle. It would be generally recognized as ludicrous for you to try and get the government to mandate that the company lower its prices and provide you with their new car at the price that you want to pay. Why, then, do people see things differently when the issue of health (and other social services) is discussed?

Perhaps it is because, as Bastiat also noted, socialism is wrapped up in a seductive external package of philanthropy, equality, and justice. And in this light does Clay’s Law—and others like it—manifest itself. Utahns must decide what form of government they want, remembering that when we allow our government to assume the power to give us what we want, we likewise sow the seeds of our demise.

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