If Government Gives You a Lawyer, Why Not a Doctor?January 19th, 2010 by Steven Gardner
Let’s take a local story that has broader implications. I’m going to try to go Dave Ross here. Let’s take an issue that carries little controversy and ask why a broader issue gets so many up in arms.
The question is, “Where do you personally draw the line?” It stems from Josh Farley’s story, “‘In-House’ Public Defense Proving Cheaper”
The story is about how the county is saving money by hiring more lawyers. The county has to provide defense to people who can’t afford to hire an attorney. This, some might call it an “unfunded mandate,” has its roots in a 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Gideon v. Wainwright. Gideon argued he didn’t get a fair trial, because he couldn’t afford an attorney, while his accuser could. The Supreme Court agreed. Felony defendants are now guaranteed a lawyer.
On Farley’s story there was some question about conflict of interest, but lay that aside for a while.
Whether the assigned attorney is employed by the county or contracted locally, taxpayers are footing the bill. Having one on staff is cheaper, so the county is increasing the number of lawyers on staff.
If you are generally against bigger government, how is this OK? Or is it? Should we instead pay a higher cost to keep government smaller?
The bigger question is where else do we do this? When we decide we need roads our government generally hires that work out. Nonetheless, the building of roads appears to be constitutionally protected under the “general welfare” clause. If it were cheaper for the city and county to build its own roads, should it be its own contractor? In many cases it is already. Should this be a decision based solely on cost, even if it might mean government gets bigger?
What if “general welfare” applies to health care? We know that almost anyone who needs care gets it. The cost is the issue, which is why we’re having the national and state conversation we’re having. Those who can pay for it do. Those who clearly cannot get theirs paid for. Some struggle, file bankruptcy, or make difficult decisions because of the cost.
Where do you draw the line? If the government is accusing you of a felony it will still get you a lawyer. If you have cancer, it won’t guarantee you care. It’s left to you to decide whether you’re going to pay to live, or at least try to.
Americans, and most countries now, have decided a balance between private service provision and public works is ideal. The question seems to be where the line is drawn. Where do you draw yours? When should government be the provider of services, when should it contract it out and when should it get out of the way?