In the “Annual Report of the Idaho Supreme Court,” Chief Justice Roger S. Burdick doubles down on a statement he made last year describing the Idaho judiciary as “vibrant.” Although I initially found this description odd, I looked up the definition of the word in the Merriam-Webster dictionary and found it to mean “having or showing great life, activity, and energy; very bright and strong.”
Perhaps he is right, after all. Digging deeper into the report reveals such interesting statistics as the fact that felony drug cases have increased by 35 percent since 2008 and that mental commitment cases have increased by a staggering 82 percent during the same period. Perhaps the court really is showing great life, activity and energy … but at what expense?
At issue is not just the 6.2 percent general fund growth for adult and juvenile corrections last year or the 53 percent growth during the past 10 years¹, but also the cost to individuals in terms of over-criminalization and a loss of individual liberty.
Dec. 5 was the 80th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition, often dubbed Repeal Day, yet today this nation and many states including Idaho continue to use the failed tactics and logic of Prohibition to criminalize the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services for which there is significant market demand.
In Idaho, even liquor, while no longer prohibited outright, is strictly regulated and cannot be sold by the glass without government permission or by the bottle by any entity other than the government itself. Criminal sanctions are also possible for those who voluntarily consume alcohol, but who have not yet attained the age of 21.
Idaho has serious problems with over-criminalization that results in thousands of Idahoans who have not harmed anyone being convicted of victimless crimes and incarcerated or otherwise penalized by the state. Our natural rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are only respected when we are free to exercise our freedom as we see fit so long as it does not interfere with the equal rights of others.
Nearly two centuries ago, the great patriot and Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson, addressed the issue of liberty and its relationship to law. He said, “Of liberty I would say that, in the whole plenitude of its extent, it is unobstructed action according to our will. But rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.”
Do the myriad laws in Idaho today violate the rights of the individual? Do they obstruct action according to our will for any reason other than to protect the limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others? If so, Thomas Jefferson would classify those laws as the tyrant’s will.
Idaho can do a much better job at protecting and upholding the rights of the individual. The first step is to clamp down on the rampant criminalization of actions that do not harm others, but that are merely personal choices that are out of alignment with the goals of would-be societal engineers.
- The general fund budget for adult and juvenile corrections has grown by 482 percent since 1993 compared with an overall fund increase of just 176 percent during the same period.
A few thoughts worth entertaining from Gov. Butch Otter’s announcement on Tuesday that Idahoans will be able to keep their insurance policies, for the time being, even if they don’t meet the minimum requirements of Obamacare. Otter’s announcement follows President Obama’s decision Nov. 14 to let people stay on the policies the government frowns upon. For a year, anyway.
Otter’s press release is curious on several levels.
First, I get that Otter was away on a foreign trade mission that perhaps slowed his own consideration of the policy. But this always sounded like a no-brainer to me, and the press release captures that: “We’re not going to tell them how to run their business,” says the press release. “Them” refers to insurance companies. OK, but if the state is not interested in telling insurance companies how to run their businesses, then why did it take so long for the Otter administration to make, what appears on the surface to be, an easy announcement? It’s the right call. But why did it take so long?
Second, I completely applaud the sentiment that the state won’t “tell them how to run their business.” If only that were true. The state’s rules governing insurance are extensive. Idaho does, in fact, tell insurance companies how to run their businesses, and did long before Obama made it cool. And all our state regulations have done nothing to lower the cost of insurance. The Department of Insurance owns much of the blame, but governors and Legislatures long before the ones in power today should own their share in the responsibility. To wit:
- Minimum health insurance requirements? That’s something the state has long had.
- Making your kids stay on their parents’ policy until a certain age? Our requirements predate Obamacare, to be sure.
- Can’t buy insurance across state lines? That’s a function of a 1961 state law, not a federal one.
And if you still doubt me, then answer this: Why were Idaho insurance companies unable to offer to reinstate cancelled insurance policies until today? That’s because the state ultimately does decide how insurance companies run their businesses.
Of insurance companies, Otter says in his press release, “I’m not going to add another layer of government restrictions on the marketplace.”
Governor, if you’re looking for another layer of restrictions in the marketplace, I have a mirror I’d like to loan you.
There are very few things where I agree with Barack Obama, but there is at least one. Back in 2001, he described the U.S. Constitution as a “charter of negative liberties.” Now, unsurprisingly, he sees that as a bad thing. He would prefer that the Constitution (or the U.S. government freed from constitutional restraints) be permitted to bestow so-called “positive rights” on individuals.
Fortunately for us, however, the Constitution was based primarily on negative rights.
What is the difference between these concepts? For that answer I turn to esteemed economist and columnist Walter Williams. He explains that the concept of negative rights “refers to the absence of constraint or coercion when people engage in peaceable, voluntary exchange.” The concept of positive rights, on the other hand, is “a view that people should have certain material things—such as medical care, decent housing and food—whether they can pay for them or not.”
So what’s the big deal? The existence of negative rights does not create conflict. I have the right to not be punched in the nose and so do you. I have the right to keep and bear arms and so do you. Everyone can have and exercise all of their negative rights at the same time without a problem.
Conversely, the notion of positive rights is fraught with conflict. If I have a right to certain goods and services such as health care or education, you must be coerced into either providing me with those services directly or funding those who do provide them. It should be obvious that this sets up an inherent conflict, because for every positive right that is created it necessitates the violation of someone’s negative right to not face aggression against his life, liberty or property.
Unfortunately, as our nation has drifted away from the principles enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the negative rights recognized by the Bill of Rights, we have begun to see the creation of more and more fictional positive rights at the expense of our actual, inalienable negative rights. What is the result? I turn once more to Walter Williams:
“What the positive rights tyrants want but won’t articulate is the power to forcibly use one person to serve the purposes of another. After all, if one person does not have the money to purchase food, housing or medicine and if Congress provides the money, where does it get the money? It takes it from some other American, forcibly using that person to serve the purposes of another. Such a practice differs only in degree, but not kind, from slavery.”
We often talk about the dangers of government trying to micromanage our lives and about the slippery slope on which such nanny-statism puts us. This week’s best example comes from our neighbor to the north where the city of Vancouver, Canada, has decided to ban the use of … wait for it … doorknobs in all future housing construction!
Of course, the city claims to have a good reason for this—because a handful of people such as the disabled or the elderly might find traditional doorknobs difficult to operate. Thus, all doorknobs should be eschewed in favor of “lever handles.”
The goal, according to Tim Stainton, a professor and director of the school of social work at the University of British Columbia, is to implement “universal design” standards that allow all facilities to be used by all people regardless of age or disability.
The flaws in this logic are obvious, however. Not only do such laws inhibit the rights of individuals to use their property as they see fit, but where does it end? Will staircases have to be replaced by elevators? Will all the doors and hallways in private homes have to be wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs? Should ceilings be raised to accommodate the unusually tall?
It would almost be amusing to consider all the potential changes that could be required in the name of total inclusion if these ludicrous laws were not actually being implemented by actual governments not all that far away from Idaho.
Now there are certainly some people with special needs, but thanks to the free market, there are numerous products and ideas that have been developed to help them to live rich, full and independent lives. We certainly don’t need the state to interfere in that free market process and to start demanding that everyone live in exactly the same way. The best way to support true inclusion is to give everyone more liberty so that they can pursue happiness in their own unique ways.
The decision of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry (IACI) to back Medicaid expansion creates a bit of a credibility problem for the business lobby organization. Not so long ago, IACI argued that the state was better off creating an insurance exchange, lest the federal government do it for us.
Alex LaBeau, the president of IACI, often remarks that given the choice, Idahoans are much better off if they can pick up the phone and call Idaho officials, such as the Department of Environmental Quality instead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. His argument won the support of lawmakers, who voted to implement Obamacare with the creation of a state insurance exchange.
Now, IACI says the state should further implement Obamacare by accepting the optional expansion of Medicaid. IACI reasons that Idaho can do what Arkansas did, get permission from the federal government to use private insurance as an underlayment to expand the health care program. Expanded Medicaid, by the way, would replace the state-county program that provides health care services for the poor.
LaBeau, in his letter to Gov. Butch Otter outlining IACI’s position, said Medicaid expansion (which he and others now call “Medicaid Redesign”) “addresses the inherent inefficiencies in the county indigent program and the state’s catastrophic program, and minimizes the cost shift to business.”
We disagree that Medicaid expansion is some kind of panacea, but that’s an issue for another day.
Today, I just point out that IACI is now arguing against itself. In 2012 and 2013, the organization said state control was paramount. That keeping the federal government out of Idaho health care necessitated the creation of a state insurance exchange. Less than a year later, IACI proposes lawmakers shelve the Idaho-run county health care program in support of a program run by bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. IACI wants to follow Arkansas’ path, go on bended knee and ask federal authorities for permission to operate expanded government health care the way another state is doing it.
I’m not suggesting that the increasingly expensive Idaho program is the right approach, either. I think Idaho should advance charity care options to fill the gap for the working poor.
But I can’t help but wonder about this rather large IACI inconsistency, and how IACI and lawmakers will resolve it. I also wonder if the oversized influence of Big Medicine on IACIs’ board—hospitals and insurance companies—is playing a part in the organization’s approach to public policy.