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The other day I heard a young man say he’d rather pay a penalty than buy health insurance under the Affordable Care Act because, in his words, “why should I pay for the sick and the old?” The answer is (1) one day he may be sick and old, and he’ll benefit from the insurance younger and healthier people then buy, (2) he may have parents or grandparents who will benefit from the purchases people like him make now, and (3) he has a responsibility to do so, as a member the same society the sick and old inhabit.
One of the consequences of widening inequality, though, is that if he’s in the top 1 percent or even top 5 percent, these arguments are less persuasive; neither he in the future, nor his parents or grandparents now, are likely to depend on the beneficience of the younger and healthier, or consider themselves as members of the same society the needy sicker and older inhabit. All forms of social insurance depend, to some extent, on a sense that we’re all in the same boat. But most boats are leaking, some are sinking, and a few yachts are bigger than ever."
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