Emily Crockett has written one of the best articles I’ve read all year, Timothy Lee, Latest Mansplainer on the Birth Control Benefit, Gets It All Wrong. It all started with the puppet video about reproductive rights. Crockett tweeted out a link to the video adding, “Puppets are creepy. So is your employer deciding whether you can get birth control.” Apart from the unnecessary puppet slight, I’m right with her. But then came Timothy Lee. You may know him, because I’ve written about his excellent writing about intellectual property. He a libertarian and when it comes to such issues, he is surprisingly good.
But when it comes to most issues, Lee is just an ignorant conservative. Truthfully, he reminds me of myself at that age. Anyway, he replied to Crockett’s tweet with this own, “Luckily people are free to pay for their own birth control.” Just on it’s surface this is such a stupid comment. What’s the point of having health insurance through your employer if they can decide what kind of care is reasonable? As Crockett noted, an employer might be a Christian Scientist. In that case, they ought to be able to stop their employees from getting cancer treatments because God can cure everything except for broken bones.
The whole thing does point out the need for government provided single-payer health insurance. But, of course, Lee would be totally against that. Just like a typical libertarian who has thought through everything half way, Lee forgets about the history of employer provided healthcare and how it is part of people’s compensation. Because here’s the thing that isn’t widely known: Hobby Lobby—the company going before the Supreme Court to try to deny their employee’s birth control coverage—provided health insurance before Obamacare that—Wait for it!—provided birth control coverage. So taking it away now is just a way of giving women a large cut in pay.
What’s more, the whole thing shows that this is not about religious liberty at all. It’s about grandstanding. And if the Supreme Court finds for Hobby Lobby, it will show that it is no longer a judicial body but just a bunch of (at least five) partisan hacks. That’s why I’m not at all convinced that Hobby Lobby will lose. But based upon what Lee said, I can only assume that he thinks they ought to win. And it demonstrates that libertarianism is at base just a philosophy developed by the power elite to justify and expand their power. Thus, libertarians tend to upper-middle class (or better) white men. It is not surprising that Lee is an upper-middle class white man.
Crockett goes on to make some excellent points about the issue. I recommend checking out the whole thing, but here’s the guts of it:
It’s funny, isn’t it, that there has been so much public outrage over an issue that just happens to be about helping women determine their sexual and reproductive autonomy. Is there any other procedure covered by insurance but objected to by a religious minority—blood transfusions for Jehovah’s Witnesses, or vaccinations for Christian Scientists—that we would seriously consider letting members of those groups not just refuse to use themselves, but also deny to others who don’t share their beliefs? Why do we give so much deference as a society to people with sincerely held beliefs that just happen to harm women, and why do we consider letting them set such a dangerous precedent that could so easily restrict other freedoms in the name of an employer’s “conscience”? …
The thing is, that’s not a question people are bothering to ask about Viagra—which does require copays but is still covered under insurance—or prostate exams, or well-baby visits. The “we’re paying for you to have sex” meme really got off the ground when people got it into their heads that women are getting “free birth control.” C’mon, we can’t have freeloaders, can we? Freedom isn’t “free”!
Except it’s not about the no-copay thing, at least not really. That fueled the fires of indignation, but the religious right is pushing for insurance plans that don’t even cover birth control—and most of them already did, even if they required copays. That’s an extra step back, and one that makes coverage for Viagra that much more awkward to explain.
The whole episode goes to show how stupid it is to glibly apply ideology to complex issues. But this is the way with libertarianism, is it not? There’s some theoretical ideal that it pushes without a thought to the practical consequences to actual people. Timothy Lee’s tweet is entirely typical of the libertarian world view. There answer to every problem is, “Well, be rich!” But when you look at actual issues and actual human beings, the philosophy is cruel and useless.