Adam Smith and Obamacare

November 14, 2013

by Mario Rizzo

Based on my non-scientific sampling of the morning talk-programs on TV, the “progressives” have discovered the law of unintended consequences. There seems to be universal agreement that if Obamacare is altered to allow people to keep their current healthcare insurance, regardless of whether it covers all of the contingencies the law has so far mandated, the entire Obamacare framework will begin to unravel. As Steve Rattner (of the auto bailout “fame”) admitted on the MSNBC program “Morning Joe,” the law is a complex web of interrelated provisions. Once you pick at one, the law may unravel.

Let me take this opportunity to remind everyone of the famous passage from Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments in which he sees so clearly the problem with statist redesign of social institutions.

The man of system, on the contrary, is apt to be very wise in his own conceit; and is often so enamoured with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it. He goes on to establish it completely and in all its parts, without any regard either to the great interests, or to the strong prejudices which may oppose it. He seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board. He does not consider that the pieces upon the chess-board have no other principle of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon them; but that, in the great chess-board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might chuse to impress upon it. If those two principles coincide and act in the same direction, the game of human society will go on easily and harmoniously, and is very likely to be happy and successful. If they are opposite or different, the game will go on miserably, and the society must be at all times in the highest degree of disorder (VI.II.42, Liberty Press edition).

There really is nothing more to add. So I will not (for now).

3 Responses to “Adam Smith and Obamacare”


  1. “…the law is a complex web of interrelated provisions. Once you pick at one, the law may unravel.”

    Notice an assumption here, being that the law is raveled in the first place, being that the law’s interrelated provisions are coordinated. Why would we assume that? Because Congress carefully anticipated and considered all the interactions in the huge law?

    Similarly, I have noticed this assumption expressed in a different way about the website. Commentators seem to assume the website could possibly be programmed correctly to implement the law, if only there had been more time and more careful programming. But some programs are impossible to write, if the specification contains internal contradictions.

    I assume, on the contrary, there must be many internal contradictions in the law. Contradictions which may be discovered only in practice. You can not unravel a fabric that has not yet been woven, I suppose.


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