Ronald Dworkin on the Affordable Care Act in the New York Review of Books. It’s a tax, you say? So what?
For centuries the most powerful and influential argument for social justice has been essentially an insurance-based argument. Justice within a political community requires that the most catastrophic risks of economic and social life be pooled. Everyone should be required to acquit his moral responsibilities to fellow citizens, as well as to guard against his own misfortune, by paying into a fund from which those who are in the end unlucky may draw. This conception of social insurance has been the rationale of the great social democracies of Europe and Canada, and taxation has been the traditional—indeed the only effective—means of pooling those risks. Insurance has been the rationale, in this country, of all our great welfare programs: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, federal disaster relief, among many others.
The Affordable Care Act, out of assumed political necessity, is different—but only on the surface. It uses private rather than public insurance, and it shuns the label of tax. But it is in essence just another, long-overdue, program of risk-pooling. It is therefore irrelevant that young, healthy people are less likely immediately to need the benefits the program provides. Yes, the act will save many of them from catastrophe later in their lives. But the present justification for asking them to participate is not self-interest but fairness.[...]
The national power to tax is not just a mechanism for financing armies and courts. It is an indispensible means of creating one nation, indivisible, with fairness for all.
[B]oth these books end with a slightly more than sidelong glance at religious language as one of the sources for resistance. Doctrine, ritual and narrative are the basic currency of religion; whether or not you believe the doctrines or find the rituals viable or tell the stories, it may be important to grasp what it is that these things conserve in human existence. To argue that one of the main social advantages of religion is that it preserves a rationale for finding some things funny is a bit counter-intuitive; but it is no more eccentric than the recognition that without a vivid sense of what is, non-negotiably, due to the dignity of any and every person, we shan’t find some things outrageous either. Solemnity, apathy and triviality are the default settings of a lot of current cultural discourse; which suggests that a reinfusion of the comic and the tragic is a basic aspect of what we need…. [T]he door is opened in both these studies to seeing religion as something other than just a set of failed explanations or incomprehensible taboos. And religious qualms around some high-profile public questions (euthanasia, abortion) are best understood as arguments rooted in a deep aversion to anything that encourages us to think of our bodies as a form of property…. [I]t is important that even the non-believer grasp that arguments based on the right to do what I like with what I “own” need some hard scrutiny in a world where commodification has become so much the prevailing trend.
Finally, in the August issue of Harper‘s, Thomas Frank on the “higher-ed game” (available here to subscibers):
Americans have figured out that universities exist in order to man the gates of social class, and we pay our princely tuition rates in order to obtain just one thing: the degree, the golden ticket, the capital-C Credential. Doubters might scoff that a college diploma is by the year turning into an emptier signifier. Nonetheless, that hollow Credential is what draws many of the young to campus, where they will contend for one of the coveted spots in that gilded, gated suburb in the sky. Choosing the winners and losers is a task we have delegated to largely unregulated institutions housed in fake Gothic buildings, which have long since suppressed any qualms they once felt about tying a one-hundred-thousand-dollar anvil around the neck of a trusting teenager.