The Psychological Value of Property

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The fact that Congress has passed health care reform-requiring Americans to buy health care insurance whether they want to or not-raises a fundamental question about whether having money and using it as one pleases is important psychologically.

This question looms now because the reasoning that allows government to force citizens to buy medical insurance for the good of their fellow man and their country could also justify other limits on deploying one's assets, such as_

* The requirement to save a percentage of one's income in a FDIC-insured bank, because saving money is generally regarded as a good idea for the nation, and our banks will be stronger because of it.

* The requirement to purchase solar panels to heat one's home, because solar power is touted as good for the nation.

* The requirement to purchase an alarm system for one's home, wired to the nearest police station, because having such a system in place (monitored by local police) could reduce property insurance claims and discourage theft, which would otherwise lead to costly investigations.

One forced redirection of a person's earned income after taxes can lead to another, and another. That game-changing trend would mean that the money Americans bring home (even after they pay income tax) would be increasingly earmarked for products and services anointed as "good" by the government. Choosing what to buy would no longer be one's fundamental right. Only some portion of one's net earnings would be discretionary money.

So what? What is the potential psychological harm of such a system?

In the short term, there is real potential harm that such a system dispirits the population and saps their desire to work hard and take pride in that work. Having a sense of control over one's destiny is partly about having economic control over one's financial destiny. Human beings strive to insulate themselves from dependency and chaos, and to the extent that they no longer have the power to take charge of their finances, they may lack motivation to perform. They may become less industrious. Our "gross domestic effort," if you will, may stall.

A connected psychological danger is that Americans could lose a sense of interest and ownership over other byproducts of their good efforts. If one's work does not lead to tangible and freely disposable assets then giving birth to his or her creative thoughts may not seem particularly important. There's a reason we talk about "intellectual commerce" and the "marketplace of ideas." It's because the vast, vast majority of human beings, by their very nature, want some credit for what they bring into the world. They want to "own" what they express. So when we take pot shots at the notion of personal property and financial autonomy, we are taking pot shots at ownership of every kind-including the value of intellect and invention.

A third problem is that an economically-disempowered people is an unlikely population to fight for the liberty of others around the world. Once a population yields its autonomy to a central authority, it can easily accept that the partial or complete enslavement of others is inevitable.

Make no mistake about it: The insult to the free market and to personal financial freedom that health care reform represents can erode freedoms of many kinds and cost much more than the Congressional Budget Office could ever estimate.