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The Libertarian Imagination

One of the things that distinguishes libertarians from regular conservatives is that libertarians really like to think of themselves as scrappy underdogs, and are far less comfortable with the idea that they're aligned with powerful economic interests. So, for instance, libertarians have an unusually strong emotional investment in the idea that their opposition to health care reform is a way of standing up to powerful interests like the insurance industry. Here is Jacob Sullum arguing in Reason that insurers actually favor Obama's proposal:

Obama's plan to tame health insurers would boost their business, protect them from competition, and guarantee their profits, all at the expense of consumers and taxpayers. It is therefore not surprising that the insurance companies, while they object to the president’s rhetoric and quibble over some of the details, are happy to be domesticated.

The rest of Sullum's article consists of some speculation as to how reform would work that runs along the libertarian model of some corporatist nightmare. The sole bit of real-world evidence he introduces to show that insurers actually do support Obama's plan is an anodyne press release from the insurance lobby objected to the way Democrats have vilified their industry and proclaiming, "We strongly support health care reform that covers everyone with a uniform, secure safety net." Supporting the general principle of health care reform, of course, is very different than supporting Obama's actual plan, and nowhere does the press release suggest the latter.

So, do insurance companies actually support Obama's plan? No, they don't:

Major business groups Tuesday announced a multimillion-dollar ad campaign to stop President Barack Obama's health care overhaul as it approaches a make-or-break vote in the House.
The ad buy, costing between $4 million and $10 million, will start Wednesday on national cable TV outlets. Later in the week, the campaign shifts to 17 states home to moderate and conservative Democrats. Their votes are critical to Obama's endgame for passing legislation to expand coverage and revamp the health insurance market.
The timing of the ads comes as Obama is building up momentum in his final health care drive. But congressional Democratic leaders are still short of the votes to pass the bill, and they're courting many of the same lawmakers targeted by the business groups.
Health insurance companies, excoriated by Obama over a recent spate of double-digit premium hikes, are helping to pay for the ads, said Bruce Josten, a top lobbyist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, coordinating the campaign.

Look, it's certainly true that insurers were negotiating in good faith with Democrats for a long time. The best read of the evidence was that the industry opposed reform, but considered reform likely to pass and was looking to protect itself from the worst-case scenario. Libertarians looked at this situation and, squinting their eyes just the right way, saw a massive hand-in-glove corporatist conspiracy. And there were the libertarians, fighting their brave battle against big business and big government.

But the jig is up. Libertarians may love the idea that they're fighting against the insurers, but they're not.