Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Sex as Redistribution of Wealth?

The arguments over mandated birth control coverage have been heated.  Limbaugh got in trouble with his sponsors.  Santorum's Daddy Warbucks came under ridicule.  Obama is a socialist intent on bringing back the Comintern.

Conor Friedersdorf, at the Atlantic, takes a different, more nuanced approach to the argument.  Starting with a historical perspective of government compelled health benefit mandates, he considers whether insurance coverage for birth control should be seen as an immoral subsidy, not because it encourages wanton behavior, but because to represents an unfair transfer of health care resources.  One of his arguments against it? It forces redistribution of wealth from minority groups,  gay and lesbians, sterile people, celibate people, among others, to healthy straight people.  Here is part of his argument:
But hypotheticals can assist us. Don't be put off by their implausibility, for they help to clarify what's at stake. Imagine that scientists developed all three of the following innovative pharmaceuticals:

1) A pill that permitted heterosexual men -- but, for some reason, only heterosexual men -- to drink alcohol without damaging the body in the normal ways.

2) A pill that permitted women -- but for some reason, only straight women -- to experience during yoga physical pleasure and stress relief equivalent to orgasm during intercourse.

3) A pill that permitted anyone to safely experience all the salutary effects of a good LSD trip without any risk of addiction or ill health effects.

Like birth control, these hypothetical pills must be taken throughout the course of the month to be effective, and cost roughly the same amount. Should any or all of them be offered free to anyone who wants them via the American health-care system, and therefore effectively subsidized by all the people in the same risk pool who either don't want to take them or won't benefit? I would say that they should not be included, although I'd celebrate the invention of all three pills.

My reasons for opposing their inclusion -- for refusing to ask that everyone in the American risk pool underwrite their cost for the sake of those who would benefit -- would be similar to the reasons that I oppose universal "free" birth control. That some people, or even a majority, would find healthy alcohol or orgasmic yoga or consequence-free LSD intensely pleasurable or deeply meaningful is great, but isn't itself grounds for defraying the cost of their supply by spreading it to people who feel differently. So it goes for sexual intercourse between straight people. The more you thinks about it, the more apparent it becomes that pooling the costs of contraception produces lots of winners and losers, and that contrary to the progressive rhetoric, it isn't women as a class who benefit. A less obvious cultural majority, one that includes many women, benefits. A cultural minority -- including more than just gays and lesbians -- are the losers.

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