In less than a year as pope, Francis has undermined the core precepts of conservatism as practiced today, and not just in America. Fellow worshippers on the altar of individual selfishness, such as Tony Abbott, Stephen Harper, or David Cameron, must be feeling the sting of Pope Francis’ criticisms. It is not just greed he is deploring, it is the culture of indifference to the less fortunate, the mockery for the poor that is tolerated, the economic system that festers in fraud and corruption, the deliberate policies of putting people out of work so that profits can be enhanced, the embrace of investors’ returns over the contributions of labor, the refusal of companies to provide a living wage to their workers, the exploitation of workers’ private time that must now be devoted to their employers’ interests, and the growth of surveillance and coercive police tactics designed to suppress dissent against all these evils. Most of all, Pope Francis derides the connivance of political leaders in the growth and consolidation of a malevolent socioeconomic global order that is crushing the spirit if not the life of billions of people.
Pope Francis’ criticism of the market as the core relationship between human beings is not in any way new in Catholicism. Nor is it some form of ideological leftism. It’s simply an orthodox call to remind us of our fundamental duty to the poor and the sick and the vulnerable, our manifest obligation to treat every human we encounter with dignity and worth – both personally and through the social structures we democratically assent to. …
And the way in which market capitalism has become a good in itself on the American right is, well, perniciously wrong. As soon as a system ceases to be a means to a human good, and becomes an end in itself, it has become a false idol. Perhaps the apotheosis of that idol worship was the belief – brandished on the degenerate right in the past decade or two – that markets are self-regulating. Of course they’re not, as Adam Smith would have been the first to inform you. Another assumption embedded on the American right is that more wealth is always a good thing. The Church must say no. This is a lie. Wealth is a neutral thing above a certain basic level of non-drudgery. Above that, it can be an absolutely evil, deceptive thing, distorting human souls, warping their dignity, vulgarizing their character. An American right that worships at the altar of both free markets and material wealth, and that takes these two idols as their primary goods, is not just non-Catholic. It is anathema to Catholicism and to the Gospels.
The root of “conservative” thinking on healthcare, at least as it is articulated in this space, appears not to have anything to do with centralization versus decentralization of decision making, but with dedication to the proposition that the healthcare market is just like all other markets; that a decision about healthcare follows the same logic and has the same degrees of freedom as do decisions such as whether to buy a new TV, or broccoli. Unless that catastrophically mistaken idea is abandoned, I don’t see how the local variety of “conservative” thinking can address reality and thereby improve.
The reason that the breadth of options that insurers can offer must be constrained is that if it is not constrained, then that variable, and not efficiency, is the lever that will preferentially be used as the profit generating mechanism. What that means in the real world is that the poor will be poorly insured and the rich richly insured, with the same problems of free ridership and poor long term outcomes due to avoidance of preventive care that we have now … In other words, healthcare really is a different beast in that it cannot be effectively treated as though it were a completely free market at the policy level because it can never, in fact, behave like one. That is not an ideological framing but a hard, cold fact. Healthcare is not a market like other markets and it is not even remotely anti free-market to point that out.