So, in terms of immediate issues, the Healthcare decision was a mixed bag. On the one hand, Roberts pretty much made up that the mandate was a tax (since the President and Congress went to extreme lengths to make sure it was not a labeled tax in the bill) and is therefore Constitutional, leaving the individual mandate intact. On the other hand, the Supreme Court FINALLY put a limit on Congress’ powers under the Commerce Clause. However, what is absolutely shown from this decision is the necessity of economic freedom to secure social freedom.
The government having the power to effectively force you to buy health insurance is an obvious infringement on the individual’s social liberties; it is the government saying, “If you choose not to make the choice that we think you should make, then you will be taxed”. In general, many people who identify as “social liberals” or “cultural liberals” often see infringements on economic freedoms (such as increased taxation, increased regulation, etc.) as desirable, necessary evils, or at least not a fundamental threat to liberty. Meanwhile the same groups also almost unanimously decry infringements on social freedoms (including marriage, birth control, health insurance, food preference, etc.) as intolerable government overreaches. The healthcare decision provides an excellent example of why economic liberty must be seen as equally necessary to a free society by all Americans, but particularly social liberals. In particular, I want to underscore the inherent long-term threat of using taxes to try to encourage people to make a certain personal choice (such as the purchase of insurance).
Let me posit a scenario to demonstrate this from a different angle than the current healthcare issues. Rick Santorum is president along with a House and Senate of social conservatives. Court precedent says that they cannot make birth control illegal, but what they can do is tax it. Court precedent says that they cannot make pornography illegal, but what they can do is tax it.
Now some would correctly argue that the practice of taxing “unwanted” behavior or choices has been around for a very long time and that this has not happened yet, but that is not the point. When the case is being made for economic freedom and free markets, their advocates are not advocating a system of the past, but a new approach to government’s relationship to the economy. The system free marketers advocate for is one where the government cannot pick winners from a list of campaign contributors or losers from a list of opponents and does not tax behavior or choices that it disapproves of because it has been fundamentally changed to be denied the powers to do so. In such a system, social freedoms would be more secured than they are today because one of government’s primary weapons to dissuade certain social practices (the weapon of taxation) will have been taken from it.
This Supreme Court decision impresses upon us the need to get government out of our wallets in order to get it out of our personal lives. Liberty is not something that should be split into different sects. Economic liberty affects social liberty, as I’ve described. Social liberty affirms economic liberty (i.e. government not prohibiting the individual from spending his or her money on “socially unacceptable” ventures, such as gambling). They are connected, and both are absolutely necessary for a free society.
“The power to tax involves the power to destroy” First Supreme Court Chief Justice, John Marshall