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Morality and the Mandate

David Callahan

As the Supreme Court takes up the Affordable Care Act and its most controversial provision, the individual mandate to purchase health insurance, legal analysts are busily debating how the ruling might go -- looking back decades for precedents.

More interesting, though, are the core moral questions at stake. Does the mandate unduly infringe on personal freedom? Does it represent statist overreach in ways that overly burden individuals? Is it, in sum, yet another example of an imperious government telling us how to live our lives instead of just leaving us to be free and make our own choices?

The answers to these questions are: no, no, and, no.

An accepted role of government is to stop people from behaving irresponsibly in ways that hurt others or being free riders in ways that cost us all. Government is a tool by which we make our fellow citizens exercise personal responsibility.

And this is exactly what the individual mandate is all about.