My friend the Crazy Uke is a mortgage guy; he’s getting me another refi. Years ago – oh, decades – we sat up all night in the back booth of a college restaurant and argued politics; now we sit around the kitchen table of the house he helped us buy, sign endless forms and documents, then pour a drink and agree about politics. I changed. He didn’t. As the son of Ukrainian DPs, he had anti-Soviet and anti-statist ideas poured into his marrow as he grew up, and his accounts of his parents’ lives during the famine and the war were not inconsiderable elements in my political education. It’s one thing to have a college bull session about the Cold War; it’s another to argue with a guy who was actually detained by the KGB and kicked out of the Eastern Bloc.
The Ukrainian famine is one of those episodes known more to anti-commies, I suspect; if I’m right about that, it says something about the people who regard such episodes as inconvenient anomalies and insist we talk about smallpox-infested blankets. But I remember hearing about how people were hauled away for harboring wheat – Kulaks! Wreckers! – and so I got a jolt when I read a NYT article last month about the Administration’s pivot on the health-care mandate question. Uh, well, yeah, it’s a tax, I guess, they said, and they cited some interesting Supreme Court law:
In their lawsuit, Florida and other states say: “Congress is attempting to regulate and penalize Americans for choosing not to engage in economic activity. If Congress can do this much, there will be virtually no sphere of private decision-making beyond the reach of federal power.”
In reply, the administration and its allies say that a person who goes without insurance is simply choosing to pay for health care out of pocket at a later date. In the aggregate, they say, these decisions have a substantial effect on the interstate market for health care and health insurance.
In its legal briefs, the Obama administration points to a famous New Deal case, Wickard v. Filburn, in which the Supreme Court upheld a penalty imposed on an Ohio farmer who had grown a small amount of wheat, in excess of his production quota, purely for his own use.
The wheat grown by Roscoe Filburn “may be trivial by itself,” the court said, but when combined with the output of other small farmers, it significantly affected interstate commerce and could therefore be regulated by the government as part of a broad scheme regulating interstate commerce.
If you’ve read Amity Shlaes’ “Forgotten Man,” this isn’t a total surprise, but to put in the modern web vernacular: Wow. Just – wow. So a guy grows wheat for himself, and bang! he’s a Kulak, too – not because he intended to sell the wheat, mind you, but he could have, and everyone did it, then prices would collapse and Walker Evans would have to go out and reshoot the Midwest to capture the new wave of human misery.
Something to keep in mind when someone says “if they can do this, they can do anything.” They’ve already done that. They already can do anything. I don’t know what’s worse: that it still exists as a decision the government could cite, or the fact that the administration thought it would be a good idea to bring it up to defend their tax.
By the way, the Crazy Uke’s parents are still alive, hale and sturdy. They lived long enough to see Ukraine declare its independence; they lived long enough to go home for a visit without Intourist minders.