Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Megan McArdle has an essay on the cultural infrastructure of capitalism, Moral Bankruptcy over at The Atlantic.
Should defaulters feel bad? I've been thinking about this a lot lately. A number of people have made the argument to me that the credit system is morally neutral, at lest from the point of view of the debtor. The banks knew when they lent to you that there was a risk of default, and if you do, you pay the penalties. Why feel guilty? They don't, for selling you the rope with which you hung yourself.
I have had some thinking of my own on a parallel situation.

I went to the ER with chest pains two weeks ago. Not chest, exactly; rather lower down. But on the left side, and then I felt lightheaded to boot, and called 911. I was 90+% sure it wasn't a heart attack; riding up in the ambulance 95%+ sure; after four hours in the ER, 99+% sure. But I wanted to do the right thing. I didn't want to be that dumb guy who just brushes it off and then collapses in front of his poor wife and kids later that day. Everyone kept insisting I did the right thing.

Well, it's nice to have had a lot of tests to show that my heart and circulation are just great, thanks, and if I croak soon it's likely to be something else - anything else. I did get some reading done in the hospital, also very nice. It was nice to hear that so many people were praying for my heart, just in case it needed it. Finally, it was good to have a dry run, for when I do have an emergency at some later date. Say, when a piano falls on me, or I get hit by a bus. Which will be completely different, come to think of it.

Tracy read the bill to me last night: over $5000. Should I feel bad about that? If I knew I was going to be on the hook for $5K, I never would have called 911. But I didn't pay it, my insurance did. My insurance is provided by my employer. My employer is the State of NH. So the taxpayers of NH paid for medical care for me that I would not have purchased myself.

Now, betting against that $5000 out-of-pocket every time would possibly kill me someday, via bus, piano, or disease. So there's that in favor of having you guys pay for my insurance, because it will likely lengthen my life. Also, one works for the state precisely because of the benefits, as the salaries tend to be less than private sector. So I have in that sense been paying for my own insurance with lost wages over time. Not fully convincing, but a partial rationale - or rationalization.

I have a morbid fear of being under obligation to anyone, which is likely a measure of my o'erweening pride. Such a fear is very much an illusion on my part, as I am of course very much in emotional and cultural debt to many people. I have learned to ignore that, adding ingratitude to arrogance. Still, that desire to pull my own oar has likely spurred me to do more good than I would have otherwise. Most duties are not a joy to me, but fortunately Duty itself is a joy.


terri said...


Glad you weren't having a heart attack!

It's likely the insurance company will cut the actual cost of the visit in half. Very seldom are hospital prices firm.

Donna B. said...

Being a military spouse, my medical bills are also paid by the taxpayers, so I understand what you're saying...

And, I cost them quite a bit of money before I was diagnosed with GERD as a side-effect of weight loss surgery. You see, I tried to save the taxpayers money by having that surgery, but it's only ended up costing them more than obesity would have because of the side-effects (not limited to GERD).

I'm glad you did not have a heart problem. I know that finding that out is a relief itself.

Boethius said...

AVI: I think the same way you do. In December, 2008, my daughter bought a home. She received $7500 from the Feds with her tax return. This money needs to be paid back. Had she bought the house in January, 2009, she would have received $8000 from the Feds and would not have to pay it back.

She is not bemoaning this because she thinks the same way I do; no one can now accuse her of being part of the problem of having to repay Government handouts with higher taxes.

I do not want any handouts from the Feds or any one else because I do not want to be beholden to anyone.

I am really glad you were not having a heart attack.

Gringo said...

That is too expensive.