Libertarians face off on issues

By Andy Steinke
September 5, 2008 (date accessed)
Third Congressional District Libertarian candidates Ben Olson III and Kevin Barrett faced off in a debate Sunday night aboard Captain Chris Soma’s boat in Wisconsin Dells.
The two are the first Libertarians to face each other in a primary in the state as they seek the seat held by Ron Kind, a Democrat.
The two called the debate to give the public an opportunity to hear their perspectives on the health care system, Social Security, the war in Iraq and more.
Barrett and Olson agreed in principle on many Libertarian ideals, but it appears the main dissenting point in their campaigns will be their view of the nation’s health care system.
While the acknowledged Libertarian viewpoint is to keep the government from accruing more power than it already has, Barrett, 49, said he was in favor of a single payer health care system run by the government. Barrett said he could flip-flop on the issues, however, if he was offered a better alternative.
“I do think that single payer health care is the best solution to our current problem,” Barrett said, “that doesn’t mean that I believe in it philosophically. Actually I would prefer a non-government run health care system.”
Olson, 55, is running against Barrett in what may be the nation’s first Libertarian primary Sept. 9, because he doesn’t support Barrett’s stance on the health care issue and because he wants a “true Libertarian” on the November ballot.
“In regards to health care,” Olson said, “with our country already heading down a path towards bankruptcy, the last thing that I would want to give the government is the power to run our national health care system.” However, Olson failed to give a different solution to the nation’s health care problem.
“There are a lot of problems and I’m not sure that I have the answer,” Olson said. “But I do know that I firmly believe that the government administering health care in this country is not the answer.”
Everyone agrees that our health care system is not performing adequately for far too many of us, especially considering how expensive it is. Currently the nation is debating a spectrum of reform proposals to improve the performance of our system, though many proposals would actually compound the deficiencies.
A major confounding problem is that almost all of us do care about the health of our fellow Americans; even most Libertarians do. Though Libertarians support free market solutions that keep the government out of our lives, anyone who studies the health care system understands that reliance on markets alone cannot ever be effective in ensuring that everyone receives the health care that they need.
What is unprecedented about this debate is that one Libertarian has decided that the single payer model is the “best solution to our current problem.” The other Libertarian doesn’t have an answer but believes that the Libertarian anti-government ideology should have precedence over a solution that would work, merely because effective solutions include a role for government.
No serious student of health policy would contend that a free market of competing private health plans would ever be effective in ensuring affordable health care for everyone. Even the current political proposals touting market competition of private plans support a major role of government through large tax subsidies (such as Sen. McCain’s proposals for a $5000 tax credit for family insurance, and for federally-supported high-risk pools). Effective reform is impossible without a major role for government.
At least one Libertarian who distrusts government has looked at the options and has decided that, if his fellow Americans are going to receive the health care that they need, and the government will have to be involved, then we might as well go ahead and chose the option that is the most efficient and most effective: “a single payer health care system run by the government.”
Now that’s a man who cares about the rest of us.