The Thinking 

The Wisdom of the Amish

June 28, 2012


THE AMISH are officially exempt from Obamacare mandates because of their longtime refusal to participate in major health insurance plans. The Amish save and collectively support individuals in need of medical care. On this principle of independence and interdependence, they are eminently wise.

Contrast that with the stance of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops which even today, despite the prospect of Catholic hospitals and agencies being forced to pay for contraceptives and abortifacients, still blithely endorses nationalized medicine. As a commenter writes at the USCC blog:

If the use of this term [universal health care] means that the Church otherwise supports “Obamacare,” which is government dictating (gov. already does this) to insurance companies their coverage and to medical doctors procedures and groups of persons to be covered, I would then posit that the Church no longer views humans as individuals with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and property, but rather as members of groups with “rights” according to group membership. Along with this, is the logic that it is somehow moral for those categorized as belonging to one group (e.g. government or the Church, or poor people, or labor union, or too-big-to fail businesses) to force others in another group (e.g. insurance companies, medical doctors, taxpayers) to provide a service for or to give what is demanded or needed to the other group simply by virtue of their group membership. (How such a position can be seen as moral is beyond me).

                                                      — Comments —

Jesse Powell writes:

“The Amish save and collectively support individuals in need of medical care. On this principle of independence and interdependence, they are eminently wise.”

Isn’t nationalized health care similar to what already exists in all of the major industrialized nations except for the United States simply applying the Amish model of “collectively supporting individuals in need of medical care” at the national level? Isn’t the whole idea of nationalized health care that the community as a whole through taxes support each individual in their time of medical need? Isn’t the Amish model exactly this, that the Amish community as a whole provide for the medical care of each individual Amish person?

Aren’t the Amish practicing “government run health care” except that the method of organization for the communal support that the Amish offer to each other goes through some other means than “the government”? Why is Amish communal responsibility for individual health care needs glorified as being “eminently wise” while “universal health care” is vilified?

In the quotation from the USCC blog it is said that it is immoral for members of “one group” (such as the poor or labor unions) to expect to be provided for by members of “another group” (such as doctors or taxpayers). To go back to the Amish example you could just as easily say that it is immoral for members of one group of Amish (such as farmers and blacksmiths) to expect to be supported by another group of Amish (such as harness makers or those who man roadside stands) when a particular Amish person has a medical need. Why not embrace the collective identity of being an American and say that as Americans we look out for each other and don’t allow our fellow Americans to be bankrupted by medical expenses or to go without health care just because they don’t have enough money to pay for what they need at the time their medical crisis arrives.

 Laura writes:

There is no requirement imposed by an immense bureaucracy with its own interests at stake that any Amish pay into their community funds or group plans. (Here is a general description of the Amish approach to medical care, which differs considerably among the various sects.)  The Amish communities are small, voluntary associations of like-minded people, nothing like a democracy of 300 million people representing radically different views and expectations of what medical care is. The Amish are free to come and go. The federal government under Obamacare effectively prohibits formation of voluntary associations free from federal oversight.

It’s not the idea of helping others (or being helped) that is objectionable but being forced to help others under the government’s terms in a system subject to political manipulation. Private health insurance in this country evolved from the sort of mutual aid societies now found among the Amish. These aid societies were radically different from both the later private health insurance plans and the new federal model.

In a comment last year at VFR, Kristor explained this. He wrote:

Most of the older insurance companies in the U.S. were founded as fraternal aid associations of one sort or another, by people who could not get coverage in any other way, and who banded together in affinity groups to provide each other mutual assistance. The list of such carriers is long: Lutheran Life, Church Life, Knights of Columbus Life, Fireman’s Fund, Travelers, Teachers Insurance & Annuity Association, GEICO, USAA, AAA. And many of the older insurers are (or once were) “mutual” companies, owned by their policyholders: MONY, New York Life, Metropolitan, Mutual of Omaha, Mutual Benefit, Prudential, and Northwestern are the most famous. The owners of a mutual insurer are, in effect, insuring each other. In 1900, very few insurers were stock corporations; the overwhelming majority were fraternal aid societies or mutuals.

Drive around an old residential neighborhood that has not been razed in the last 60 years and you will see meeting halls here and there, or social clubs, set up by and for various immigrant groups. The Scandinavians were big on this sort of thing, but you can find lots of buildings established by Italian, Polish, and German fraternities, too. Immigrants from a country like Finland would naturally end up living in the same neighborhood, and would create these neighborhood associations to defend themselves from gangs, City Hall (the most powerful local gang), and the dangers of mundane life. Many volunteer fire companies started out as projects of such fraternal aid societies; sometimes, firefighting and fire insurance were services of one and the same organization (in rather the same way that both auto insurance and roadside assistance are services provided by AAA). Many such societies were linked to churches; the Polish parish and the Polish fraternal society naturally shared a lot of members, and the latter might hold its events—dances, socials, festivals—in the undercroft of the former.

It is these sorts of natural associations, in which people band together for mutual aid and comfort without any intervention or direction from above, that have been mostly gutted by the vast federal takeover of charitable and insurance functions that took place in the 20th century. As the federal behemoth stumbles and crumbles under its own weight, and the deracinated, atomized, amoral civil life it has enabled, wherein everyone is a stranger in a strange land, becomes more and more difficult to sustain, we may expect fraternal aid societies to begin making a comeback.

Ibitsaam writes:

Why is Amish communal responsibility for individual health care needs glorified as being “eminently wise” while “universal health care” is vilified?

From what I know about the Amish, I imagine they have a pretty uniform outlook on life and their lifestyle fundamentally excludes ‘bad’ health practices, such as overeating, (hardly) drinking alcohol and smoking, physical inactivity, free sex etc. etc.

This is diametrically opposed to an insurance system in which the American population at large would have to support the ill choices of everyone else.

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