Life, death, and the lottery

Doctors tend to a patient in the ER of Mission Community Hospital in Panorama, Calif.
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Doctors tend to a patient in the ER of Mission Community Hospital in Panorama, Calif.

Question: what do the Right to Die, the Right to Try, and frozen state lottery jackpots have in common?

Answer: they're just this month's latest evidence of just how insatiably power hungry, cynical, and completely unaccountable to the people government can be. They're also signs of how the government confronts its own failures by moving to take yet more of our freedoms away.

Of all of the above stories, you're most likely to have heard about how the state of Illinois is suspending lottery jackpot payouts for prizes of $600 or more. It's all supposedly because of the budget impasse in Springfield. Why that should affect the payouts of what's supposed to be a revenue positive enterprise should be the question everyone asks about this head scratching move. But it's only a head-scratcher if you're naive about the state's intentions. In a regular business if the customer doesn't get what he or she paid for or what was promised by the owner, that owner would be in serious trouble. State governments must really look at the rules the private sector lives by and think we're a bunch of suckers. Because Illinois isn't even suspending the lottery games with the jackpots it's telling its people it won't pay off until further notice. It's business as usual on its end.

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Mismanagement and abuse of state-run games of chance is all too common. Oh and by the way, it can get worse as New Yorkers found out about six years ago when New York City's Off Track Betting parlors all had to close because of massive incompetence and debt. In other words, Illinois has failed in its duty to pass a budget. Its first major response to that failure is to punish many of its citizens. But hey, we're just talking about people who waste their time and money on lottery tickets. Who cares about them, right?

It's a little harder to brush off the extreme examples of state cynicism and abuse when you look at two related events in California that took place just about the same time Illinois messed with its lottery this month. The first was Governor Jerry Brown's decision to sign the state's "End of Life Option Act, which gives a terminally ill patient the right to administer euthanasia drugs to him or herself as long as two doctors sign off on it. At first glance, this law seems like it grants Californians a new freedom. Even the USA Today editorial board calls this law a move for individual "dignity" and "compassion." Governor Brown has been making a lot of statements about honoring the solemn wishes of his most vulnerable citizens.

Baloney. First off, the law still very un-compassionately forces those suffering patients to jump through some time-consuming and potentially costly bureaucratic hoops. Second, the state's renewed interest in these kinds of euthanasia laws isn't motivated by compassion. The motivation is money and power. With the state's health care monopoly growing each year, so too does the cost connected to maintaining the health of those ornery citizens who have this crazy desire to stay alive. California isn't interested in granting its people more freedom, it's interested in granting itself more freedom to avoid having to live up to its own expensive promises.

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The failure here is connected to that broken promise. "Free" or single-payer health care is a mirage. No state can provide adequate health care to its citizens without some kind of rationing. Along comes the "Right to Die" movement volunteering to do some of that rationing all on its own. It's a win-win for the state. So Californians can have all the freedom they want as long as they're literally willing to die for it. The state wants to keep intact its health regulatory monopoly and its expanding near-monopoly on actual care. This law helps that happen. So look for more states to get on the euthanasia bandwagon soon enough.

And Governor Brown's decision just days later to veto the so-called "Right to Try" bill makes the state's true intentions about life and death even more clear. That bill would have allowed terminally ill people to have access to experimental drugs or devices not yet approved by the FDA. Brown says he opposed the bill because he wants to give more of a chance to the FDA's relatively new program that allows a little more leeway on pre-approved drugs. And he also sided with critics who said this program dangerously takes advantage of vulnerable people and their possibly impaired decision making process.

More baloney. The real message is this: if you're a terminally ill person who wants to die, the state is all for honoring your wishes and getting out of your way. But if you're a terminally ill person who wants to live, the state better step in and make sure you don't make any crazy decisions you might regret later. The real reason for all of this is again money and power. The state doesn't want to see any more of these experimental life saving drugs become an approved staple medication that it will have to pay for down the road. It also doesn't want to empower patient advocates who constantly demand more government health coverage. The cynicism evident in Brown's actions is stunning even for those of us who have become cynical about the government's cynicism.

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What's driving this outrageous example of life decision tyranny? More failure. The state is failing to meet the cost of vital prescription drugs for the people it claims to be caring for. Its response is not to overhaul or trash its failing system, but to preemptively work to kill off more costs by slowing or permanently blocking more of those drugs from coming to market or being used at all. It's kind of like a kid who's failing at math and responds by getting his parents to get math taken out of the curriculum.

There's a lot of talk these days about how big corporations and Wall Street firms often get bailed out by the taxpayers when they fail. And we know that it's happened a few times from the Detroit automakers to the big banks. But from lotteries to very issue of life and death, there's nothing more constant than government failure and the huge price it extracts from its citizens every time it fails. Heads they win, tails you lose.