When You’re Not a Hypocrite

A certain accusation of hypocrisy in politics has always bothered me. Somehow I’m not surprised that Ted Cruz (R-TX) is the one responsible for its resurfacing.

Cruz made headlines recently when asked about how he was going to get healthcare now that his wife would be leaving her job and thus forfeiting their family’s plan. He said would likely find himself on the federal exchange set up for U.S. Senators, aka the ACA (aka Obamacare). He did, however, decline to accept the subsidy that is provided specifically for members of the congressional body. You can read more on this here and here.

This has been viewed as ironic by many considering Cruz’s vociferous and verbose opposition to Obama’s signature piece of legislation. While one can appreciate the irony of subscribing to something one despises, onlookers who trot out claims of hypocrisy have one problem: they’re wrong.

Like most political things, government programs tend to create a twilight zone that is concerned, above all else, with where the battle lines are (often arbitrarily) drawn between D and R. It’s akin to a Pandora’s Box that lets every evil out to play; instead of hope, though, our political chest ensnared reason.

It is never hypocritical to participate in a government program you are seeking to reform, cut, or abolish. The best example of this that comes to mind is with social security. Ayn Rand has borne the brunt of this argument for taking SS payments, a tale that has been both exaggerated and fabricated. Regardless of her collection from SS, there is no hypocrisy here. You may be able to decline benefits from the program, but you are unable to decline paying into the program. Money promised to you through SS benefits is money you have seen shaved off your income over the years. Taking social security is taking money back that was taken from you. This does not put you in any moral quandary.

Imagine if someone wanted to be principled and completely opt out of the program they disagree with. That would mean both declining benefits of the program and declining to pay the taxes/fees which fund that program. This would be truly opting out. As it stands however, death and taxes are certainties. We know what to expect if we don’t pony up: fines, imprisonment, and even our other aforementioned certainty.

If we extend this logic, we’ll quickly see how the hypocrisy argument can be used to justify any government expenditure, however frivolous.

Let’s say, for example, that I believe the government has a vested interest in the health and well-being of America’s pets. I pass the Pet Affordability and Well-being Stabilization Act (PAWS), which increases income taxes by 5% and provides subsidies for pet essentials like food, toys, crates, healthcare, etc. Some people may object to this legislation. Maybe you don’t have any pets. Maybe you’re allergic. Maybe you were bitten by a dog as a kid and are afraid of them now. Maybe you don’t need to spend 5% of your income to take care of your pets. Maybe you think that you know how to budget for your pet better than the government does and don’t need a bureaucracy to manage the process for you. Clearly, we can see how my bill will help pet lovers at the expense of others. This is the beauty of top-down legislation.

Now, along comes a group called Paws Off Our Salaries! This collection of cynophobes and pet-less people work ardently to repeal the Act. The Hypocrisy Brigade, however, is on the beat and digs up some shocking information about the organization’s members. Some of them have been using the cheap dog food to fertilize their gardens. Others have been taking advantage of the subsidies to buy crates and repurpose them as storage containers. The group’s leader actually has a dog! Hypocrisy!

It’s easy to see that something doesn’t feel right about this. Any tax and spend legislation is justified with the hypocrite heckle. Those who have nothing to do with pets are stuck in Rand’s position. They obviously abhor how the government is controlling their finances through taxation and implementation of a program. They can’t avoid the taxes, but they can take advantage of the program (benefits for Rand, creative use of subsidized products for the pet-less). Taxing that money means we’ll never know what that person would’ve been able to do with it. Some would’ve used it unwisely, others would’ve put that money to work much better than the social security administration could. Hell, just investing that taxed income in 1-year treasury bonds would’ve netted you 17% more than SS pays out.

Pet owners are in the same dilemma as Cruz. Both had an interest in purchasing the product regardless of whether legislation got the government involved. For Cruz, he can expect the cancellation of old plans that don’t conform to the ACA’s requirements and subsidies for plans on the federal exchange that he would use (and, as a taxpayer, is paying for). Combine that with the tax exemption that corrals people into employer-based coverage, the penaltax for not getting coverage, and myriad other regulations. Under these conditions, an ACA health plan may very well be his best option. That’s hardly an argument for the ACA. To see this, let’s look at our pet owners.

Sure, dog owners are getting food and heart worm meds for free/cheaper with the law, but what if he was spending less than 5% of his income on all those expenses beforehand? What appears as a boon to the pet owner is in fact a net cost. On the other hand, those who spend more than 5% of their income benefit from the new law. I could have conducted extensive research that shows the average pet owner consumes 5% of their income on pets, but would that still be fair of me to pass this law?  We can see the same thing in the ACA as relatively wealthier and sicker seniors benefit at the expense of relatively poorer and healthier young people. Is that fair?

Utilizing members-only prices on dog food is not hypocritical when someone steals your credit card and signs you up for a non-refundable membership. Please don’t call people hypocrites when those very people would be jailed for trying to completely opt out of the program they want to end.

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