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A Modest Proposal, 2009 Edition
by Ed Morrissey
I have discovered an unfair disparity in access to a vital resource based on the economic condition of the consumer. This disparity is not just egregious, but it threatens the very core of our American way of life. People routinely get denied adequate and competent service on the basis of their ability to pay, even though they have a right to it, while the rich eat up all the resources with their ability to access the best and brightest in the field. And in the interest of fairness, the federal government needs to find a solution and impose it on the industry as a whole.
I refer, of course, to legal representation.
Oh, sure, in an emergency, the government will foot the bill for a public defender to represent the poor and indigent, but that’s hardly a comfort to those who needed a lawyer before getting into the emergency condition in the first place. Besides, while we have many dedicated public defenders, it’s hardly a news flash that the wealthy can afford much better representation and have a much better chance of prevailing in court in criminal cases. When the poor, working class, and middle class end up in that emergency situation, they can lose their homes and property to pay for decent legal care — and that shouldn’t happen in America, should it?
After all, unlike health care, Americans actually do have a Constitutional right to legal representation in court. Some will scoff and say the lack of a lawyer, or a bad lawyer, can’t cause your death. Those critics may want to talk with the inmates who got freed from Death Row and lifetime prison sentences after having mediocre attorneys lose cases where the defendant was really innocent. Bad or nonexistent legal representation can take years off of your life, and can definitely get you killed.
Even beyond that, though, the wealthy and connected have access to a much wider range of legal services than even the middle class can afford. Estate planning, trust funds, tax shelters — all of these can be expertly provided to those with the resources to afford them, while other Americans get second-class status in our legal system. For those who aspire to egalitarianism of result, this arrangement should be such an affront that it demands real action — now.
I propose that the government impose a single-payer system on the legal profession. Instead of charging private fees, all attorneys would have to send their bills to LegalCare, a new agency in the federal government. Because the government can bargain collectively, they can impose rational fees for legal services instead of the exorbitant billing fees attorneys now charge. Three hundred dollars an hour? Thing of the past. Everyone knows that the government can control costs through price-setting; now we can see this process applied to the legal system, where the government has a large interest in seeing cost savings.
How will we pay for LegalCare? I take a page from the House surtax method of funding health-care reform here, which will disproportionately hit doctors in a wide variety of disciplines. In this case, I propose a 5.4% surtax on lawyers, judges, lobbyists, and political officeholders at the state and federal level. They’re the ones who have enriched themselves through this inequity in the legal system. After all, why should we all have to pay for the single-payer legal system when we can penalize lawyers instead?
Now, this will have some impact on the legal-services market. On the downside, we’ll have fewer attorneys. Law schools will get a lot less competitive as students avoid the law and the limited amount of money available through LegalCare, and existing attorneys may leave the profession as well as they fail to make enough money from the price-controlled compensation they get from the government. All this will mean longer wait times and rationing of services as people flood attorneys’ offices to demand services disconnected from the actual cost to provide them. It may take a couple of years to get a will done, so start when you’re young.
On the plus side … we’ll have fewer attorneys. And politicians! Best of all, everyone will get the same level of legal care regardless of their ability to pay, thanks to LegalCare and the government-imposed rationing of a resource to which we have a right to access at any time we want, for any reason we want.
Ed Morrissey writes for HotAir.com and is a regular columnist for American Issues Project. He hosts a daily Internet talk show, where Jazz Shaw runs chat-room moderation, and a weekly radio show in Minneapolis. This post originally ran on Hot Air. MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann recently named Morrissey “The Best Person in the World”.