Churchill on Healthcare

Churchill on Healthcare

I am hop­ing you can place in con­text a state­ment by Win­ston Churchill, which has been offered to show that he would sup­port cur­rent U.S. heath care reform pro­pos­als. My own Catholic parish recent­ly pub­lished the afore­men­tioned state­ment in its week­ly bul­letin.

What Would Churchill Do? Here’s an inter­est­ing quote. It’s from con­ser­v­a­tive British Prime Min­is­ter Win­ston Churchill explain­ing his view on  health care and gov­ern­ment in 1948: “The dis­cov­er­ies of heal­ing sci­ence must be the inher­i­tance of all. That is clear: Dis­ease must be attacked,  whether it occurs in the poor­est or the rich­est man or woman sim­ply on the ground that it is the ene­my; and it must be attacked just in the sane way as the fire brigade will give its  full assis­tance to the hum­blest cot­tage as read­i­ly as to the  most impor­tant mansion….Our pol­i­cy is to cre­ate a nation­al health ser­vice in order to ensure that every­body in the coun­try, irre­spec­tive of means, age, sex, or occu­pa­tion, shall have equal oppor­tu­ni­ties to ben­e­fit from the best and most up-to-date med­ical and allied ser­vices avail­able.”

The head­ing and quo­ta­tion imply that we Catholics should sup­port nation­al health care. Lack­ing the rhetor­i­cal con­text in which the state­ment was made and giv­en, and knowl­edge of con­di­tions exist­ing in Britain six­ty years ago, I am won­der­ing: what was Churchill’s  actu­al posi­tion on nation­al health­care? —J.R., Chica­go

We tend to dep­re­cate arti­cles sug­gest­ing that Churchill would do this or that about mod­ern sit­u­a­tions. His daugh­ter always likes to ask peo­ple who say such things: “How do you know?” The answer is, of course, that none of us know. (What we do know is that, except when very young, he hat­ed that nick­name “Win­nie.”)

The Churchill quo­ta­tion you sent is not from 1948, but tak­en from his trib­ute to the Roy­al Col­lege of Physi­cians on 2 March 1944. (Com­plete text avail­able from this web­site by email.)

You will have to decide whether the excerpts joined togeth­er in your church bul­letin are in con­text. (I have insert­ed the break.) You are right to sug­gest that con­di­tions in Britain in 1944 were dif­fer­ent (more crit­i­cal health-wise) than con­di­tions in the USA in 2009.  Also, in 1944, the words “nation­al health ser­vice” did not nec­es­sar­i­ly mean what the Labour gov­ern­ment cre­at­ed after the war. Nor do they define what is pro­posed in Amer­i­ca. Pres­i­dent Oba­ma and his sup­port­ers are not propos­ing a British Nation­al Health Ser­vice. The argu­ment is over whether what they pro­pose might lead to prob­lems sim­i­lar to the British sys­tem.

With­out ques­tion Churchill believed that new med­ical dis­cov­er­ies are “the inher­i­tance of all.” But that leaves a fair­ly wide array of options. On 3 July 1945, too late to affect the gen­er­al elec­tion (which came two days lat­er), he issued a Cab­i­net Paper call­ing on his col­leagues to move for­ward on leg­is­la­tion or Nation­al Insur­ance and a Nation­al Health Ser­vice. What they would have come up with we’ll nev­er know, since the Con­ser­v­a­tive Par­ty lost big, and the Labour Par­ty took over and cre­at­ed their own plan. But con­sid­er that “Nation­al Insur­ance” to some peo­ple means an alter­na­tive to “Nation­al Health Ser­vice,” in which the cit­i­zen might have, for exam­ple, a med­ical sav­ings account accru­ing to the indi­vid­ual through reg­u­lar, required deposits from pay­checks, like a bank account. The mir­a­cle of com­pound inter­est is a great thing.

It seems evi­dent that Churchill did not oppose the Labour Party’s Nation­al Health Ser­vice, though he was not among its advo­cates. In the begin­ning every­thing was to be free, of course. When, inevitably, costs began to rise, and the Chan­cel­lor of the Exche­quer intro­duced charges for spec­ta­cles and den­tures, he protest­ed the heavy gov­ern­ment expen­di­tures in the House of Com­mons (10 April 1951), sug­gest­ing that oth­er economies should have been made to accom­mo­date the increas­es:

Those who hold that tax­a­tion is an evil must rec­og­nize that it falls upon this coun­try in a most griev­ous man­ner at the present time, con­tin­u­al­ly bur­den­ing the mass of the nation and con­tin­u­al­ly clogging—or, at any rate, ham­per­ing our efforts. There is to be an increase of tax­a­tion. I am not at all con­cerned today to exam­ine even cur­so­ri­ly the detailed pro­pos­als which the Chan­cel­lor has made, but tax­a­tion is to be increased; it is to be heav­ier still. Nat­u­ral­ly, many peo­ple will feel that the issue should be argued out very tense­ly as to whether oth­er economies in Gov­ern­ment expen­di­ture might not have relieved us from the need of apply­ing new bur­dens and new tax­a­tion. Of course, we know the times are dif­fi­cult.

…So in 1951, as we can see, Churchill was argu­ing for decreased gov­ern­ment expen­di­tures instead of high­er tax­es on the cit­i­zen­ry as the best approach to the prob­lem. In 1945, it had seemed much eas­i­er of solu­tion.

Churchill con­sid­ered socialism—a far milder form than we know today—incompatible with human lib­er­ty, and sought a way of ame­lio­rat­ing the com­plaints of the poor (or rel­a­tive­ly poor) with­out con­fis­cat­ing the wealth of those who pro­duce it. To this end you may be inter­est­ed in read­ing the com­ments on this mat­ter by Lar­ry Arnn in our the autumn 2009 Q&A col­umn Finest Hour 144: 11). If you are not a Churchill Cen­tre mem­ber, Arnn’s remarks are avail­able from this web­site by email.

For a bone of con­tention about the para­graph above, see Part 2 of this dis­cus­sion.

4 thoughts on “Churchill on Healthcare

  1. Sor­ry, but I did not say “Social­ism bad, Cap­i­tal­ism good,” though I did quote oth­ers. My own words were restrict­ed to recount­ing the degree of state con­trol in Britain, then and now, to refute the reader’s state­ment that there is less now than in the post­war Labour hey­day. The argu­ment that “most cit­i­zens are not com­pe­tent” is of course a long-run­ning assump­tion of elit­ists and Sta­tists. Some­how, our ances­tors man­aged for a few hun­dred years.

  2. “The West’s prob­lem is creep­ing social­ism.”

    Sor­ry, you are mak­ing a val­ue judge­ment. “Social­ism bad, Cap­i­tal­ism good” to be frank, when, to be fair, it is nigh impos­si­ble for a coun­try to be pure social­ist or pure cap­i­tal­ist (see the Gild­ed Age and fail­ing infra­struc­ture, soup lines, high infant mor­tal­i­ty, etc.).

    Most coun­tries social­ize their war infra­struc­ture. They also cre­ate forced rationing (what hap­pened to let­ting the mar­ket decide?). The argu­ment that Churchill was against social­ism is a sil­ly one. He was only for the social­ism that he thought was appro­pri­ate. No doubt he did not con­sid­er it social­ism.

    Also you fail to elab­o­rate on “com­pe­tence of the cit­i­zen to man­age his own needs”. I may be wrong, but I sus­pect when he said this many cor­po­ra­tions pro­vid­ed some form of pen­sion plan. In the Unit­ed States, aside from state and fed­er­al jobs, these have all but van­ished. In their place are poor­ly man­aged DIY “retire­ment accounts”. Most cit­i­zens are, in fact, not com­pe­tent to man­age retire­ment – although many may brag that they are clever and skill­ful, the real­i­ty is quite dif­fer­ent.

    Retire­ment is also part of the safe­ty net and I sus­pect Churchill would be hor­ri­fied how many sup­pos­ed­ly first world coun­tries mal­treat the elder­ly. To quote Dr. Arnn it is because it devolves into that which is mate­ri­al­ist and dehu­man­iz­ing.

  3. Sor­ry, but that’s not very well con­sid­ered. Many would say the British state, like the Amer­i­can, is much larg­er in rela­tion to the pri­vate sec­tor than it was when Churchill retired. At the high tide of Labour social­ism, 1951, 20% of Britain’s econ­o­my had been social­ized. Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment is spend­ing close to 25% of GDP, the nation­al debt equal to or exceed­ing GDP. Nei­ther rep­re­sents pure social­ism, in the sense of gov­ern­ment own­ing ALL means of pro­duc­tion, which is com­mon only to com­mu­nist coun­tries. Even there it’s not com­plete. Chi­na calls its sys­tem “mar­ket social­ism,” what­ev­er that is. Creep­ing cap­i­tal­ism, per­haps. The West’s prob­lem is creep­ing social­ism. It does not mat­ter who holds the title to a prop­er­ty, like an insur­ance com­pa­ny; it mat­ters who gets to say what is done with it. Quot­ing Dr. Arnn:

    “Churchill’s argu­ment: social­ism is like Nazism and com­mu­nism in its prin­ci­ples: mate­ri­al­ist and dehu­man­iz­ing. In oper­a­tion, it is more mod­er­ate, at first. But it builds a bureau­cra­cy that becomes a weight in soci­ety; it becomes a new form of aris­toc­ra­cy, he says explic­it­ly, worse than the old form. 

    “One of ques­tions Churchill had to face was: if you are for the social safe­ty net, includ­ing health care, how do you pre­vent that from build­ing a soci­ety of ‘drones’ (his word), ulti­mate­ly dom­i­nat­ed by a bureau­crat­ic elite? In oth­er words, the safe­ty net is good, nec­es­sary, and can be made to work. but social­ism destroys its work­ing because it sets out, in prin­ci­ple, to destroy and super­sede it.

    “He answered that ques­tion in many ways: the social safe­ty net done right­ly is sim­ple jus­tice; with­out it the ‘peo­ple will set their faces like flint against the mon­ey pow­er’; a con­sti­tu­tion should pro­tect the peo­ple against this ten­den­cy. A con­sti­tu­tion­al arrange­ment begins with the prin­ci­ples of indi­vid­ual rights includ­ing prop­er­ty rights, self-respon­si­bil­i­ty, the sov­er­eign­ty and respon­si­bil­i­ty of the cit­i­zen, and the com­pe­tence of the cit­i­zen to man­age his own needs (except in extra­or­di­nary cir­cum­stances) and the gov­er­nance of his coun­try.

    “One may look at today’s bureau­crat­ic gov­ern­ment in light of these cri­te­ria. What is its prin­ci­ple? Does it in fact oper­ate to waste resources and to over­come the inde­pen­dence and sov­er­eign­ty of the peo­ple? Churchill is not here to weigh these facts and make the judg­ments. We are. But from him we can learn the cri­te­ria.”

  4. “Churchill con­sid­ered socialism—a far milder form than we know today—incompatible with human lib­erty”

    Sor­ry that’s non­sense. The social­ism that Churchill railed against was a far STRONGER ver­sion, with very high tax­es, and things like state con­trolled indus­try. He would have regard­ed the Democ­rats as ‘cen­tre-right’, com­pared to the social­ist par­ties of the 20th cen­tu­ry, with their com­mit­ments to nation­alised indus­try and very high tax rates.

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