Good start to article by Thomas Sowell (but finishes with a misreading)
Sowell has for so long been an odious syndicated columnist, but I haven't read anything from him for so long. I like the non-ideological reading of the economics of slavery that start this article, but he misreads his own story. If slaves needed higher motivation (like hourly pay, instead of the threat of beatings and death) to do complex tasks, Sowell argues, then the federal government's arm-twisting will fail. The mistaken assumption is that federal power is synonymous with the slave-holder's right to flog his slave; thus, the Obama Administration's arm-twisting of the health care system is bound to fail, because the incentives are on the side of "power" (threat of force) instead of incentives (i.e. pay).
First, the comparison between the federal government and slaveholders is ridiculous. Democratic governments are formed in order to protect the rights of its citizens. Whatever the government's use of "force," it's not akin to the slaveholder's threat of force. Regarding the health care debate specifically, surely the private health insurance companies are closer to the "slaveholder's force," which is threat of death. The insurance industry needs regulation because they've been killing people -- literally -- by pulling benefits from their customers when they get sick.
As for incentives, in health care, the incentives were all for the immoral path to profit, and now hopefully a decent health care reform law will shift incentives. I don't see the federal government's efforts as a threat, but if it is a threat, then clearly it's directly at the health insurance industry which has been screwing people over, simply put.
My reaction to the article is that Sowell's example of how slaves too needed better motivation than threats is an interesting piece of slavery history, and significant to how people are motivated generally. But in applying that piece of history to a blanket denunciation of the federal government and its "power-threat," Sowell misses the mark. That he would draw such a lazy analogy in a short article says much about him, and reminds me of why I went for years without reading his stuff.
No profanes - sacred