RM, a friend has two nursing jobs, but no health insurance. Some argue that this person somehow deserves health insurance.
I’d certainly like them to have health insurance, don’t get me wrong.
But I don’t fool myself that they deserve employer-provided coverage. Here’s my version of Landsburg’s argument (see his points 9 through 14).
Do note that this argument applies to a whole realm of human endeavors, and to your relationships as much as mine.
My friend gets a certain benefit from their job: pay, benefits, hedonic income, and so on. They also incur certain costs: mostly the opportunity cost of their time spent working, and the opportunity cost of foregone investment in other skills.
But, they took the job, and they continue to do it. This suggests the benefits exceed the costs.
Then there’s my friendship and the friendship of others. This also offers benefits. We don’t like to admit it, but there are costs too; mostly the opportunity costs of spending your time with someone else.
Next, note that almost all of us choose our jobs over our friends fairly readily. This suggests that the net benefit of time at our jobs is higher than the net benefit of time with our friends. If it didn’t, we’d skip work more. Instead … we skip relationships.*
And this is where my desire that my friend have employer-provided coverage crashes and burns. You see, I provide less to my friend RM than the employer does, and I want the employer to provide RM even more.
As a want, I think this is OK. But when I start to imply that RM deserves more from their employer I’ve cross the boundary into moral incoherence.
Think about it: in what moral universe is it OK for the people who do less to expect the people who already do more … to do even more?
I’ll give you a clue: this is the moral universe of prison wardens and toddlers.
What my friend RM really deserves is … better friends. Say, friends, that would provide health insurance. This is, perhaps, unrealistic. But the moral ground is a lot firmer under those friends who say, “I’d love to buy health insurance for you but I’ve got other expenses with higher priorities” than those who’d say “I’d love to expend my outrage at the employer you’re already generally choosing over me rather than my own money.”
* It’s a digression, but an interesting one, to think about how our employers get in that envious position. They do so by laying out quite a lot of cash for peoples’ time.