Obamacare and Involuntary Servitude

Tibor R. Machan

However much one learns to squirm out of one’s inconsistencies, logic usually bites one in the butt. Of course, strictly speaking logic is the formal system that’s supposed to guide our reasoning process and on its own doesn’t serve much more than that vital, indispensable task. That is why it is usually studied in symbolic form–As and Bs or ps and qs. When one complains that someone is being illogical, it means that he or she isn’t following the guidelines of logic.

In any case, the discussion of President Obama’s federal policy requiring that everyone obtain health insurance has frequently focused on the fact that either an employer or individual would be forced to obtain private health insurance instead of, as Wikipedia points it out, “or in addition to the institution of a national health service of insurance”. And many have suggested that this is a very unusual measure since it mandates specific performance from citizens, contrary to the legal tradition of the country. One may be forced to give up property but never to carry out a task, something that is reminiscent of slavery or involuntary servitude and thus directly in conflict with the idea of a free society.

It has been noted, now and then, that some laws do require specific performance despite all this, such as being forced to prepare tax returns, but this has been dismissed as rather trivial. However, there is a requirement imposed upon nearly every citizen, namely jury duty and complying with subpoenas–which often takes several days, even weeks from one’s life and imposes specific conduct that one must perform. Is this not just like the individual mandate to obtain health insurance–to go out and purchase this service?

In America jury duty has been objected to mainly by libertarians who have a firm conviction that the right to liberty is a natural–and should be a constitutional–right. Thus to coerce someone to serve on a jury in opposition to what he or she chooses to do would be to subject the person to a form of–maybe not Draconian but still significant–involuntary servitude.

Thus, the argument goes, as a matter of consistency the USA is already awash with a type of compulsory individual mandate and those who complain that Obamacare is breaking with a powerful American principle and tradition are wrong. Or, put more precisely, there is strong precedence for doing this so Obamacare isn’t something extraordinary in requiring specific performance from the citizenry.

There is a good case to be made to counter this, however. Both jury duty and complying with a subpoena do demand specific performance from American citizens, yes, but arguably in consequence of a voluntary commitment they have made in choosing to be citizens of the country. Both jury duty and complying with subpoenas are deemed as necessary for the pursuit of justice. And citizenship in a free country has exactly that as its central purpose, namely, to secure justice for everyone.

So if someone has witnessed a crime and is the only one who can provide testimony about it, refusing to do so is arguably going back on the free choice of a citizen of the country committed to securing justice for all. Refusal to serve on a jury might be so construed as well, although in that case the particular individual’s compliance could well be dispensed with. One could obtain the service involved by hiring a fellow citizen to sit on the jury. This is no option in most cases that one is subpoenaed to testify about what one has witnessed.

In any case, when one performs jury duty or testifies in response to a subpoena, it could be construed as fulfilling a implied promise one has made by becoming or being a citizen of a country the legal system of which is committed to securing justice for all. And that is clearly not involved in the individual mandate that’s part of Obamacare.

Obamacare would, in fact, set at least a federal precedent by compelling citizens to follow a mandate they haven’t consented to follow, to submit to the demand for involuntary servitude!