Commentary Magazine


George McGovern, Free Marketeer?

Who would have thought that George McGovern would write an eminently sane column on the dangers of government paternalism? It has gems like this:

Buying health insurance on the Internet and across state lines, where less expensive plans may be available, is prohibited by many state insurance commissions. Despite being able to buy car or home insurance with a mouse click, some state governments require their approved plans for purchase or none at all. It’s as if states dictated that you had to buy a Mercedes or no car at all.

He even looks at the unintended consequences of bans on “payday lending,” long a bogey-man of liberals, and finds the cure is worse than the disease. He concludes:

Since leaving office I’ve written about public policy from a new perspective: outside looking in. I’ve come to realize that protecting freedom of choice in our everyday lives is essential to maintaining a healthy civil society. Why do we think we are helping adult consumers by taking away their options? We don’t take away cars because we don’t like some people speeding. We allow state lotteries despite knowing some people are betting their grocery money. Everyone is exposed to economic risks of some kind. But we don’t operate mindlessly in trying to smooth out every theoretical wrinkle in life. The nature of freedom of choice is that some people will misuse their responsibility and hurt themselves in the process. We should do our best to educate them, but without diminishing choice for everyone else.

No, honest: George McGovern wrote that. Perhaps he could talk to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama about their notions for solving the home mortgage crisis. I am sure he would advise Clinton of the unintended consequences of freezing rates on sub-prime loans, or warn Obama about the costs to taxpayers and consumers at large of a bail-out fund for affected homeowners.

All this raises a question: has McGovern become wiser as the years have passed or has his party has become dimmer? Perhaps both . . .