Jonah Goldberg

One answer might be that this is merely the straw that breaks the camel'salready strained back. Another might be rage at a late hit from the exitinggovernment of British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Another might be that theBrits can take "nanny state" intrusions in the name of law and order, but ifyou go after their booze, it's time for a glorious revolution. Yet anothermight be that Britain's underclass seems increasingly unredeemable, andrather than give up on it, the government feels the need to ratchet up theinfantilization of the many in order to fix the few.

All of these, and many other interpretations, have merit. But there'sanother explanation with some salience for Americans bemusedly - orenviously - watching Britain turn into a penal colony with whacky TV and aline of heredity wardens called monarchs.

Britain still subscribes to a system where health care is for the most partsocialized. When the bureaucrat-priesthood of the National Health Servicedecides that a certain behavior is unacceptable, the consequencespotentially involve more than scolding. For example, in 2005, Britain'shealth service started refusing certain surgeries for fat people. Anofficial behind the decision conceded that one of the considerations wascost. Fat people would benefit from the surgery less, and so they deservedit less. As Tony Harrison, a British health-care expert, explained to theToronto Sun at the time, "Rationing is a reality when funding is limited."

But it's impossible to distinguish such cost-cutting judgments from moralones. The reasoning is obvious: Fat people, smokers and - soon - drinkersdeserve less health care because they bring their problems on themselves. Inshort, they deserve it. This is a perfectly logical perspective, and if Iwere in charge of everybody's health care, I would probably resort tosimilar logic.

But I'm not in charge of everybody's health care. Nor should anyone else be.In a free market system, bad behavior will still have high costs personallyand financially, but those costs are more likely to borne by you and youalone. The more you socialize the costs of personal liberty, the morelicense you give others to regulate it.

Universal health care, once again all the rage in the United States, is aninvitation for scolds to become nannies. I think many Brits understand thisall too well, which is one reason why they want to fight the scolds here andnow.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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