Obama as King Canute

June 23, 2010

by Mario Rizzo  

President Obama, always alert to the laws of economics, is complaining, in effect, that loading up private health insurance with even more mandates seems to be causing rises in premiums.  

As The New York Times reports: 

“President Obama, whose vilification of insurers helped push a landmark health care overhaul through Congress, plans to sternly warn industry executives at a White House meeting on Tuesday against imposing hefty rate increases in anticipation of tightening regulation under the new law, administration officials said Monday… Mr. Obama will appear in the East Room, where he will highlight new regulations to protect consumers from discriminatory insurance practices, end lifetime limits on coverage and ban unjustified revocations of coverage …Mr. Axelrod likened them to “essentially a patients’ bill of rights, the strongest in history.”

Now, although the federal government currently has little legal power to affect insurance rates (but who knows what is possible through “jaw boning”?), the states are increasing their regulatory activity in this area.

But the brilliance of ObamaCare will not be denied:

“The federal law, which will require that most Americans obtain insurance, includes a number of provisions intended to slow the growth of premiums. For instance, insurance companies soon will have to spend at least 80 percent of revenue from premiums on claims, as opposed to administration and profit.”

Take that, evil insurance companies!

Instead of an economic analysis of all this, I present a poem about King Canute:  

A poem for kids, by Paul Perro

There once was an old king called King Canute,
And he was a very bossy old brute.
“Bring me my crown, and hurry!” he would say,
He told everyone what to do all day.
He said to the queen “I like being the king
And being in charge of everything.”

The queen looked at King Canute, and she laughed.
She said “Not everything, don’t be daft.
You couldn’t command the wind not to blow,
You couldn’t command a tree not to grow.
You’re not in charge of the birds or the bees,
The sun or the moon, the skies or the seas.

“Oh yes I am” said the King, getting cross
“I am, I’ll prove it; I’ll show you who’s boss!”
He called the servants together and then
He bellowed out an order to his men:
“Pick up my throne and take it to the beach,
There is a lesson that I want to teach.”

So they carried his throne down to the ocean
Followed by crowds, there was quite a commotion.
Canute sat on the throne facing the sea
And spoke to it with great authority.
“I am your king and I give this command -
Stay where you are, do not come on this sand”

But the sea didn’t listen to the king.
No-one can stop the tide from coming in.
As the waves kept advancing up the shore
The red-faced king tried to halt them once more.
“I am the King, you must do as I say,
I command you to go back, right away.”

But the waves still came, right up to his feet.
Canute sighed sadly, admitting defeat.
He faced the queen and said “You won the bet
And I have got my royal slippers wet.
I did my best, but no, I came up short.
I guess I’m not as powerful as I thought.”

7 Responses to “Obama as King Canute”

  1. Bob Murphy Says:

    This is obviously fiction, and inapplicable to our situation. I can’t possibly imagine Obama saying, “I did my best, but no, I came up short. I guess I’m not as powerful as I thought.”

    Clearly it was the dysfunctional Senate that prevented Canute from stopping the tides.

  2. Glen Says:

    The way I originally heard the King Canute story, the King was actually being ironic. He knew he didn’t have the power to command the sea, so when his advisers begged him to stop the rising tide, he held up his hand and told the tide to stop — as a way of demonstrating that he lacked that power.

  3. Mario Rizzo Says:

    There are different Canute stories as befits a legend. The Misesian story in Human Action is more or less this. However, if we take the wiser version, then perhaps we should say “If only Obama were as smart as Canute…”

    Another possibility is that Obama is as smart as the Wise Canute. He knows his healthcare system won’t work but it will take us to the single-payer system — the summum bonum.

  4. Troy Camplin Says:

    I’ve always assumed it was exactly that: a ploy to make things worse in order to say, “See, we must have a single-payer plan.” They based it on the already-failing MA plan, so what else would they be doing, knowing the system they based it on is already falling apart?

  5. Roger Koppl Says:

    What Glen said. Hume tells the story and seems to credit it fully. Canute was a Dane who conquered Denmark, Sweden, and England. He was Canute the Great and an early Christian leader in his realms. His courtiers were calling him a god and he had them carry him in his chair to the banks of the Thames where he ordered the tide not to come in. When it came in anyway, he said that only God could control the winds and tides. His recognition of the limits of secular power should make him a hero to all economists!

  6. Mario Rizzo Says:

    I accept the “true” story. But I wonder how many people know it in the way the poem portrays it.

    So much, however, for learning Danish legends from a few lines in Mises.

  7. Simon Bilo Says:

    Does Mises specifically talk about “King Canute” in Human Action? If yes, could you please give me the reference? I have difficulties to find it. Thank you.


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