Free fall

Free fall

June 30th, 2012 in Opinion Free Press

See if you can spot the contradiction in this passage from an article by The Associated Press:

"Getting an AIDS test at the drugstore could become as common as a flu shot or blood pressure check, if a new pilot program takes off. The $1.2 million program will offer the free rapid HIV tests at pharmacies and in-store clinics in 24 cities and rural communities, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced ... ."

Don't feel too bad if the inconsistency isn't readily apparent to you. It's a subtle kind of thing -- and that is exactly the problem.

Through the decades-long failure of families and schools to teach basic economics and the fundamentals of logic, we have come to the point at which we do not think twice when someone refers to tests funded by mounds of tax dollars as "free."

But they are free, someone will protest. The person who gets the test doesn't have to pay for it, so it's free, right?


That only means that the test is not paid for at the time it is administered and by the person who benefits from it. But the equipment needed for the test costs money to manufacture, and the person who administers the test must be paid for his time.

Even the individual receiving the test is not necessarily getting it entirely for free. If he pays federal income taxes that support the CDC, he is paying at least a portion of the cost of the test.

Still the allure of something for nothing drives the perpetual misuse of the word "free" -- especially where government is concerned.

Recall the controversy when President Barack Obama ordered religiously affiliated charities, schools and hospitals to provide their employees medical insurance that includes "free" contraception -- even if that dictate violated their most fundamental teachings.

Setting aside for a moment the bigger issue of Washington violating the First Amendment's guarantee of religious liberty, contraception isn't free. Producing and distributing it comes with a price tag. And you can shuffle that price tag around, from one party to another, all day long, but you cannot make it go away.

Somebody has to pay the bill for all these things the federal government likes to call "free."

Which brings to mind a wryly insightful bumper sticker: "If you think health care is expensive now, wait till it's free!"