The incredible degree to which many “liberal” writers have gone all-out to defend the previously conservative idea of an individual mandate requiring people to give a private corporation their money is bizarre. That latest attempt seems to be a dishonest interpretation of a 1798 law that created a payroll tax to pay for federal socialized medicine. From Rick Ungar:

In July of 1798, Congress passed – and President John Adams signed -“An Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen.” The law authorized the creation of a government operated marine hospital service and mandated that privately employed sailors be required to purchase health care insurance.

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[I]t created the Marine Hospital Service, a series of hospitals built and operated by the federal government to treat injured and ailing privately employed sailors. This government provided healthcare service was to be paid for by a mandatory tax on the maritime sailors (a little more than 1% of a sailor’s wages), the same to be withheld from a sailor’s pay and turned over to the government by the ship’s owner. The payment of this tax for health care was not optional. If a sailor wanted to work, he had to pay up.

This is nothing like the individual mandate in the new health care law. What it is similar to is Medicare, which is also a direct government health care service paid for by a payroll tax.

While it is true that this tax was technically “mandatory,” every tax, almost by definition, is mandatory. The idea that the government has the right to force you to pay them a tax is a fairly uncontroversial foundational principle of modern government.

The fact the founders supported the completely uncontroversial idea that the government could levy taxes on individuals and use those funds to provide government services–such as health care–in absolutely no way indicates, one way or another, their support for using government power to require people to buy an expensive product from a private corporation. Just because this law deals with health care is immaterial. This tax no more indicates support for the individual mandate than anyone of the other hundreds of laws that “mandated” individuals pay a tax to the government.

It does show the founders supported socialized medicine

I’m glad that this law has come to light, though, because it shows the founding fathers had no principle objections to socialized medicine, government-run health insurance, or an entitlement programs funded by a payroll tax. It is strong proof that they would, in general, have no Constitutional issue with Medicare or single-payer health care. It is good to know when it come to health care issues, our founders were more prepared to adopt far more sensible, direct solutions than the highly inefficient “fixes” supported by President Obama and the modern Democratic Party.

Progressives should be pointing to this law to show that the founders had no problem with the basic design of the honestly progressive solution of single payer. However, using it to defend the idea of the individual mandate seems to a be a real distortion.

Progressives really need to stop defending the individual mandate. It isn’t progressive, it isn’t popular, it isn’t necessary, and, most importantly, it is an inherently inferior way of expending coverage when compared to a truly progressive approach.