Ludwig von Mises adopted as his life motto a verse from Virgil: Tu ne cede malis, sed contra audentior ito. The translation is: Do not give in to evil, but proceed ever more boldly against it. His writings and his life reflect the extent to which he truly adopted this wisdom. His refusal to compromise, while closing many doors to him (and nearly costing him his life, as he was forced to flee Nazi Germany), has inspired some of the greatest thinking about economics and its relationship to human behavior. Lew Rockwell’s dream of an institute dedicated to the field popularly called “Austrian” economics, is named after Mises, no doubt signaling to all that compromise of principle would simply never be entertained.
I’ve always liked Mises’ motto, wondering what a world would be like where more people adopted this way of thinking. I ran into another saying this past weekend at the annual meeting of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) that I wanted to share with you, no less powerful in my opinion, than Mises’ favorite quote from Virgil.
Principiis Obsta, Finem Respice. The translation is: Resist the beginnings, consider the ends. Interestingly the author, Publius Ovidius Naso, known as Ovid in the English world, was, like Virgil, a poet of Latin literature. This quote was revealed at the AAPS meeting as used by a former Nazi to describe the sequence of events in Germany that led to their fascistic insanity. Very small steps, unnoticed by most, led to the totalitarian regime we all now know well.
I think these two quotes have affected me because they are unfortunately applicable in our time. Bob Dole of Kansas was asked in a debate once if there was an issue over which he was willing to lose an election. His opponent was making the case for an absence of principle in Dole’s career. Dole simply did not know what to say. He, like almost anyone in politics or with power, chose victory and the maintenance or growth of their power and influence, over principle. It seems like people will say anything these days to gain power, knowing their future actions bear no resemblance to prior pledges and promises.
So what does any of this have to do with health care? Universal health care was the issue that eventually brought power to the Nazis. This is an extremely inconvenient fact for those promoting it. Countries that have embraced this insanity have wholeheartedly embraced rationing of care to the sick and euthanasia, as an individual’s health, rather than staying an issue for that individual, became a matter for the “state.” In Great Britain (a country Hayek warned in his Nobel prize winning “Road to Serfdom, was embracing the very economic policies of the Nazis they were fighting!) euthanasia has morphed into murder, as their Liverpool Care Pathway is used to “free up” hospital beds.
“But that can’t happen here,” you say! The Independent Payment Advisory Board screams otherwise. The data mining through electronic medical record systems screams otherwise. “Meaningful use” and “best practices” cookbook medical approaches scream otherwise. Accountable Care Organizations, HMO’s by another name, scream otherwise. I think none of these small steps would have occurred had we heeded the advise from Virgil and Ovid.
G. Keith Smith, M.D.