Saturday, June 21, 1997 — Your Body is a Federal Asset

Another day at the Pet Palace. A rumor that the vicious German shepherd is being peddled to the county prison. Let him do his berserk act on any criminals who get loose in the yard. How appropriate.

Dinner at Patrick’s house. We discussed the tobacco deal, $360 billion over 25 years to keep the states from filing lawsuits for the purpose of recovering the costs of medical care for smokers.

‘What about all those excise taxes?’ Patrick asked. ‘What were they for?’

‘Oh,’ I said, ‘they weren’t for anything. They were discouragement from smoking. Sin taxes aren’t about money; they’re a sign of government disapproval of naughty behavior.’

‘You’re saying they just spent it.’

‘Of course.’

Patrick laughed. ‘God. The states have to have made more money from cigarettes than the tobacco companies have. A company makes money on its own products. The state gets to profit from all of them. And now they want another $360 billion. It’s amazing.’
‘And they’re sanctimonious about it to boot. It’s ‘for the kids’.’


‘The excise taxes are going up again too. A lot.’

‘Man,’ said Patrick. ‘The tobacco lobby is the most powerful of all. They’ve got money, lawyers – ‘

‘ – and politicians,’ I interjected.

‘Bunches of them, ‘ Patrick agreed. ‘So if they have to take this deal, then there’s nobody who can stand up to government extortion. I mean, that’s what it is, just a giant holdup.’

‘What I can’t figure, ‘ I said, ‘is why nobody seems concerned about the implications. This isn’t just about cigarettes.’

‘It’s about cigars, too,’ said Elizabeth, pointing at the one Patrick was smoking.

‘And what about the day when your medical insurance goes up because you bought a pound of bacon at the supermarket?’

‘Yes,’ said Patrick, ‘we can hit up the red meat pushers for a few hundred billion, I’ll bet. All that colon cancer. Somebody has to pay.’

‘Who would ever have thought that the government’s desire to help people with their medical bills would lead to state ownership of your body? Because that’s the truth of it. The motorcyclists who oppose helmet laws can’t use the argument that it’s their own business whether they get a head injury or not. Not anymore. Now it’s ‘the people’s’ business because it’s ‘the people’ who are paying the hospital bill. And they’ve been making the same kind of argument about smokers, suggesting that anyone who smokes shouldn’t get insurance coverage for smoking-related diseases. Think about that. The government takes over the health care business. Then they set about denying coverage to everyone for exactly the ailments they’re most prone to get. So maybe fat people won’t get coverage for heart disease. Drinkers can’t be allowed coverage for liver disease. Women who won’t drink their milk can’t be covered for osteoporosis. They have the right to tell you how to live.’

‘Your body is a federal asset,’ Patrick said. ‘It has to be maintained so that it can keep working, which is to say generating the tax revenues that are needed to pay off that $15 trillion national debt. If you get sick and die of something like lung cancer, you’ve cheated them out of their money. What chance does the Fourth Amendment have when the government’s got to come up with $15 trillion? Sorry, we own your lungs just like we own your house and your children.’

‘So the only part of the human body anyone owns anymore is the uterus, which just happens to be the only part on which somebody else might have a legitimate claim.’
Patrick laughed. ‘Right. The last and only corner of the world still protected by the Fourth Amendment.’
We discussed the irony, as we had before, but I have been developing for some time a perspective that might explain or even eliminate the irony. I didn’t get into it tonight, though, because it’s a big subject and will take hours, maybe days, to explore.