Benefits of Risk Taking

My daughter when she was learning to turn over

The social, pediatric and medical policies that have been circulating in the United States in the past several decades and up to the present have had the tendency to penalize health, intelligence and success in favor of sickness, lowered cognitive performance and less independent functioning on the part of all citizens. When this progression is mentioned, it is often confused with reallocation of resources, redistribution of wealth or sharing. But that is not the full story. In many cases, the lowering of potential achievement happens without redistributing wealth by the application of universal policies that have the overall effect of lowering potential for the able and reducing risk for the less able, and this happens even when we do not know who the more able or the less able are in advance.

These policies are not a question of discrimination against successful people so much as a matter of ensuring that all people, whoever they are, have lowered performance but less risk.

I am going to give three examples of policies that work this way, and each such policy can be discussed in more detail in a future article.

  • All newborns are forced to lie only on their back and not on their bellies, so that the very few newborns who might succumb to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) do not die a crib death. Since there are no markers for greater risk factor for SIDS at birth, and SIDS threatens all economic or ethnic populations, this policy is applied to all without discrimination, and its effect is to 1) reduce the incidence of SIDS in defective infants and 2) cause developmental delays in rolling over and becoming more mobile in healthy infants.
  • All children are vaccinated against childhood diseases such as chicken pox, mumps, measles and rubella, in order to ensure that those children whose immune systems are not as strong will survive the childhood diseases in question. The children who would have survived those diseases in any event are prevented from getting to make a normal exercise of their immune system in order that those with faulty immune systems do not perish. The result for the population at large is a lowered immune function across the board, partly because of the lack of selective pressure and partly because of the effect of vaccines on otherwise healthy children. In some rare cases, healthy children are severely damaged in order that sick children should not die.
  • All taxpayers with earned income below a certain threshold have part of their income withheld from them under the social security system. This applies equally to rich or poor below that threshold. They are then paid social security benefits upon retirement. Without any regard to the fact that no funds are earmarked to pay for the benefits or the apparent mismanagement of the funds, the overall result of this system, even when it works as designed, is to help those people who would have squandered that money if they had simply been allowed to have it right away, while penalizing those people who would have known how to save the money or to invest it wisely themselves. The eventual result for the population at large is an economic benefit for people who are not good at managing money and an economic penalty for those who are good at managing money. This effect is quite apart from any redistribution that the social security system also causes. This works even though we do not know which individuals are benefited and which are damaged by the system.

When we talk about the perils of equalization, many progressives respond that everyone owes something to the society they are a part of and that sharing of resources is good, even when forced on more successful individuals against their will. While I don’t agree with that, there is another more important point that such answers entirely miss. We don’t always know in advance who the more successful or healthier or smarter people are going to be. Looking at an infant at birth, there is usually no way to know whether this individual will pass all or any of life’s tests. We don’t know who is destined to die of SIDS, but we do know that if we make all the necessary adjustments so that those who are defective can thrive, then we are reducing the potential of everyone who would have done better under the care that a parent would normally give a child, without being hampered by concerns that placing an infant on its belly might cause death. We are dooming an entire population of children to developmental delays and flat heads, just so that some babies — and we don’t even know who they are — will not die a tragic, mysterious death.

We tell parents to immunize all their children, even though some will be damaged by the immunization, most would have survived the childhood disease anyway, and only a very few would die of it if they contracted the original disease. This is not about sharing the pie more equally; it is about making some people sicker and most people a little less healthy so that people who are born sick will not die. Is that ethical?

In the case of social security, the system is designed to apply equally to everyone. Up to a certain threshold everyone pays in. If we forget about all the things that are wrong with the system and merely talk about the benefits that it is intended to achieve, we can see that without even a single redistribution of resources, the system hampers those who are good with managing their own money while helping those who would have squandered it all if they had been allowed to keep it.

The question is not whether we all want to help society. The question I am addressing here is quite different: if we really do care about society, why would we want to weaken it by reducing the effectiveness of healthy and efficacious members and damaging the health and effectiveness of nearly all? Is it ethical to create a system that lowers the potential of some for the sake of others who had lower chances to begin with? My answer is no. But maybe you care nothing about such ethics involving individuals. Maybe you only care about society as a whole. The question is: how does society as a whole benefit by having the general population weakened in matters of health, cognitive development or fiscal responsibility?

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About Aya Katz

Aya Katz is the administrator of Pubwages. When she is not busy administering, she sometimes also writes posts like a regular user.
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3 Responses to Benefits of Risk Taking

  1. Sweetbearies says:

    When I was younger I always thought we have to take care of everyone, but in reality, we do need to focus on ourselves and our families, so then if we want to help others, we are in a better place to do so. Over time I have come to see these mandatory health care and insurance programs for what these are, so a way for the insurance companies to make money, and it is a form of corporate welfare. I also found out recently the idea behind health insurance started with Henry Kaiser who was a doctor that for the Arizona Aqueduct, and he wanted to see all patients, even if they could not pay. So they started charging all the construction workers a small sum from their paycheck, even if they never used his services. Basically, he wanted to make sure the men who went out drinking over the weekend could cover their medical costs if injured, but this never really seems fair to healthy people who do not go out and do such things. Even Dr. Greger was saying in his podcast an annual checkup for healthy adults is not always necessary, and can often lead to more and more tests that are not really needed. I know sometimes people have to go to the doctor, but a lot of this promoting mandatory health insurance and doctors tests and visits is just propping up one particular industry.

    • Aya Katz says:

      Yes, I agree, Julia. People can choose to pool their resources for mutual benefit, but it should never be forced on anyone. Calling it insurance confuses many people, and they don’t see it for what it is: forcible redistribution. But it is even more insidious when it’s about health itself, not just money to pay for healthcare.

      When we treat every child as an invalid, in order to shield those who actually are, but we don’t know they are yet, we hurt all children for the sake of a few, unidentified ones who actually have a problem. I’m not saying not to help the baby with a problem. I’m saying, let’s not treat all babies as if they have a problem that only a very few have — even when we don’t know which are which.

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