Why It’s Not Hypocrisy for Libertarians To Benefit from Government Programs

By: Ryan McMaken

I’m not a big fan of right-wing infotainment personality Tomi Lahren. I think she’s a hack. On the other hand, she ought to be defended from accusations of hypocrisy in the wake of Lahren’s public confession that she’s still on her parents’ healthcare plan. 

It seems that Lahren has been spared the trouble of securing a healthcare plan on her own because Obamacare requires — among many other things — that people may continue to be included on their parents’ healthcare plans until age 26. In response to Lahren revealing this fact yesterday, she was savaged in social media as a “hypocrite” for opposing Obamacare while supposedly benefiting from it personally. 

It’s Not Hypocrisy to Use Government Amenities — Even If You Oppose Them

There are several problems with characterization of Lahren’s situation as hypocrisy, and we can illustrate this with a situation with which many libertarians are rather familiar.

Here’s a typical example: Opponents of libertarianism think they’re very clever when they point out that Libertarian Jane drives on taxpayer-funded roads, even though Jane thinks that these roads should be privately-funded toll roads. 

Is Jane guilty of hypocrisy? It should be obvious that she is not. Given that government organizations generally crowd out and make impractical the production of private roads, it is likely that Jane has no choice but to use those roads, if she wants to get anywhere. Moreover, the roads don’t exist because of any decision made by Jane. The roads are there whether she likes it or not. 

Now, it would be hypocrisy if Jane denounced other people who used the taxpayer-funded roads, and then used them herself. 

But, if Jane regularly uses the roads but routinely opposes their funding, she’s actually taking a position that is potentially against her own self-interest. Needless to say, this is not hypocrisy. 

The “hypocrisy” label only applies Lahren had said that anyone who benefits from Obamacare is a bad person, and then Lahren herself benefits from Obamacare while thinking herself virtuous. 

It may be that Lahren has, in fact, denounced others who benefit from Obamacare. If that’s the case, then Lahren is indeed applying a different standard to herself. However, the fact that she has insurance through her parents does not in itself suggest hypocrisy. Opposition to Obamacare is not the problem in this case. The application of a different standard to herself is the problem. Unfortunately, most media coverage of the incident fails to make this distinction, and the Washington Post‘s title is typical: “Tomi Lahren … bashes Obamacare while benefitting from it” with the implication being that Lahren’s opposition to the law makes her a hypocrite. 

There are, of course, real cases where some recipients of government welfare consider themselves to be virtuous while condemning others who do the same. 

For example: if an elderly American merely collects Social Security payments — but opposes the Social Security system — that person is not a hypocrite. In this case, the recipient of the Social Security payments has no say over whether or not the system exists. He’s not in Congress and has never cast a deciding vote on the matter. 

On the other hand, this person would be a hypocrite if he denounced other people for accepting government money while continuing to cash the checks he received. We do indeed encounter this type of hypocrite fairly often. It’s not unusual to find an elderly recipient of Social Security who denounces other people on the government dole. The Social-Security recipient often rationalizes this inconsistency by claiming — contrary to the facts — that he or she is merely collecting from some sort of trust fund. In reality, the Social-Security recipient is benefiting from a program that transfers wealth from current wage earners to people who aren’t current wage earners. This is no different from any other welfare program. 

Who’s Really Benefiting from those Government Programs? 

This situation, however, illustrates the lack of clarity we often encounter in determining who is actually a net beneficiary of government intervention. It could be that someone who collects government benefits in one area only does so because he or she has been victimized by government intervention in some other area.

Note, for example, that the rationalization offered from the Social-Security recipients is that they’re not really benefiting. They’re only being made whole after being previously forced to bear an unfair cost at some other time or place.

But could not many other recipients of government benefits make exactly the same claim? 

After all, anyone who drives on government roads has already most likely been taxed to pay for them. 

Moreover, even a low-income recipient of a welfare subsidy could make this claim. After all, many unemployed workers and never-employed workers are — whether they know it or not — the victims of government costs already imposed on them. Thanks to government-imposed regulations such as minimum wage requirements and payroll taxes, a low-skilled worker who’s never been able to find a job can plausibly claim that if it were not for government regulations, he would have been able to find a job and not have to go on the dole. 

After all, we know that minimum wage laws harm the least-skilled workers the most. And we know that payroll taxes drive up labor costs for employers who will hire fewer workers as a result. Thus, many low-skilled workers are correct in claiming that they’ve already been forced to pay for their current benefits in the form of lost job opportunities and income. 

Nor does this apply only to low-income and underemployed workers. One might also extend this argument and note that an engineer who makes satellites for the government — while claiming to be for “small government” — is also not a hypocrite since he might have preferred to work for a truly private sector technology company designing widgets for the private market. Unfortunately, the government has seen fit to tax private industry and spend freely on government satellites instead. Thus, there are now fewer private widget firms, and more firms that make taxpayer-funded satellites. Since the government has crowded out privately-funded engineering jobs, our engineer is left taking a job he’d rather not have in order to have employment at all. 

Thus, if we take the time to look carefully, we may find that a great many “beneficiaries” of government spending and government programs are really just people who are being forced to settle for second-best options and accepting government “benefits” in the absence of private sector opportunities. 

Tomi Lahren may be in a similar position. One critic of Lahren, for example, claims that Lahren “would not have insurance without Obamacare.” But how does the critic know this? It may be that Lahren can afford her own plan even under the Obamacare status quo. The fact she’s on her parents’ plan merely illustrates she hasn’t bothered to pursue another option — because she doesn’t have to. 

Nor is it at all clear that Lahren would be without insurance in the absence of Obamacare. Indeed, in the absence of Obamacare, premiums for high-deductible insurance for someone like Lahren would likely have been much lower, and Lahren may have easily been able to afford it. In fact, it may be that Lahren would have rather been able to purchase a high-deductible plan rather than be on her parent’s plan. Maybe she hates having to go through her parents for coverage. However, since Obamacare has massively increased premium costs for young people not on group plans, getting insurance through her parents may now be Lahren’s best option. 

Thus, if we consider the unseen side effects of Obamacare regulations in this case, it may be that Lahren is actually a victim of Obamacare. She’s been forced to turn to a second-best option when she could have easily afforded a more desirable option before Obamacare forced up premiums for high-deductible plans. 

In other words, we can’t even say with confidence that Lahren has “benefited” from Obamacare at all. 

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