My last post discussed the activity/inactivity distinction from the perspective of federalism. But even from the sort of libertarian perspective that I don't personally share, I'm still baffled by why a mandate to enter into a commercial transaction should raise more hackles than other types of legal regulation. If anything, I would think that the distinction would work the other way, at least as long as nobody is being forced actually to use the product being purchased. I don't much like creamed spinach. But I don't think I'd consider my liberties cut to the bone by a law that required me to buy creamed spinach, as long as it didn't force me to eat it. More important, I would certainly far prefer such a law to one that forbid me to buy asparagus, a vegetable I do like.
There are limits to my argument here, of course, particularly when claims of conscience are involved. It would be wrong, for example, to require vegetarians to buy meat, even if they weren't made to eat it. And it would also be wrong to require the Amish to buy health insurance, which is why they and others like them are rightly exempted from the individual mandate. But most libertarian critics of the new health law don't claim that they are conscientiously opposed to health insurance. (Most, I am confident, either have health insurance or plan to buy it when they get older or sicker.) They just object, in principle, to being forced to enter into any economic transaction. And it is that abstract but vehement objection, especially in the face of the thousands of other laws that limit our ability to enter into other economic transactions, that I find odd.