Tuesday, December 29, 2009

There's No Such Thing As Equality

The concept of equality gets thrown around quite a bit during the health care debate (amongst other topics) and a thought occurred to me as my wife and I planned on the latest assortment of student loans which have come due. In a complicated world, is there ever really such a thing as equality? Folks on the left will throw around concepts like income inequality, but what does that even mean? The truth is that a $50,000 a year salary for one person is not the same as it for another person. Circumstances matter. Given that health benefits aren't taxed, there's a big difference between someone making $50,000 a year with their health care paid by their employer and someone making $50,000 a year but paying their health care expenses out of their own pocket. Someone making $50,000 a year with no student debt is in a vastly different position than someone making $50,000 a year with $100,000 of student debt. And someone making $50,000 a year in Manhattan is different from someone making $50,000 a year in Mississippi. Truth be told, a renter in the same town or city could technically be up a few thousand dollars over the course of the year on someone else with the same income who didn't find quite as good a deal on their rent.

That's not to say there aren't answers to some of these complications. For instance, eliminating the tax break for employer provided health care would put everyone on a level playing field as far as health care expenses go. But just think about it for a minute. Any system that provides some form of assistance to those who can't afford health care themselves bases that assistance upon income and none of those assessments on income take any of these other life circumstances into account. This is why the idea of a health insurance mandate is so maddening. My wife and I are fortunate to have health insurance, but if we didn't and health reform passes, we would be in the position where we wouldn't be eligible for assistance, but would be required to purchase health insurance out of pocket. The problem is, with so much student loan debt, the added burden of out-of-pocket health insurance would potentially push us to poverty levels.

Let me be clear, I'm not suggesting that we should start taking into account student loan debt in regards to poverty and need determinations. Whether we're talking about student loans, credit card debt, or living circumstances, we're talking about individual choices and we don't want a system where individuals are relieved of the responsibility for their own choices. My point here is two-fold, that 1- herein lies the problem with government mandates, because it's one thing for people to deal with their circumstances, but it's another to burden people with something they can't afford, and 2- more importantly, that equality becomes an impossibility when the multitude of choices we face is factored into the picture.


Blogger alanna said...

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11:44 PM  

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