Socialized medicine

I attended a talk tonight where the speaker discussed health care rationing. Underlying the entire talk, and explicitly mentioned at least once, was the notion that health care is special and should not be subject to the crudeness of market forces. The speaker plainly supports socialized medicine and I do agree with him that we currently have a poorly planned out system of socialized medicine already. We differ on the remedy for this problem. He favors a better system of socialized medicine, where rationing is openly discussed. I favor eliminating (or at least dramatically reducing) socialism in the health care system.

Before I go on, this is related to a couple of posts I’ve done before on universal health care.

I get particularly irritated by this notion that health care is special, an argument we also see with education. The idea is that health care is so important, and so fraught with problems, that it cannot be left to market forces.

Why is health care so important? Let’s consider some theories.

Without good health care you’ll die.
– Without food you’ll die. Therefore food is special and should not be left to market forces. We all get government food because we can’t be trusted to make our own decisions about food. When I debated Congressman McNulty and raised the food comparison, he actually advocated providing free food to all, saying it as if I was some barbarian who wanted to deprive the poor of food.
– The leading cause of death among males age 16-25 is car accidents, and car accidents kill a lot of people in all age groups. Therefore cars are special, and should not be left to market forces. The government should provide everyone with Volvos (or pick your favorite “safe” car company) equipped with 6-point harnesses, and people should be required to wear helmets while in cars.
– Homelessness is really bad for people. Housing is special and should not be left to market forces. The government should provide housing to all.

My point is that you can make the argument for just about anything being special. The “special” argument is utterly empty.

Moreover, the “special” theory completely fails to explain why socialism will do a better job than capitalism of allocating the relevant scarce resources. I inquire of my faithful readers whether they would want the government to control the market for cars, food, housing, or computers. Cars? We’d all be driving Yugos within 10 years. Food? I waver between whether cheeseburgers and other delicious “bad” foods would be banned by the health Nazis, or if the agriculture lobby would manage to get quotas of their products established so we’d be eating even more corn-related products than we do now. Computers? I can barely type on that one.

One of the big rationales on health care from the “special” camp is the concern that those poor uninsured and underinsured folks will be unable to get health care. I raised an apparently ineffective point in regard to that. The poorest person in America today gets better health care than the richest person got 50 years ago. My point is that if the poor today aren’t getting the best health care, so what? If they’re doing better than the wealthy were 50 years ago, then they’re doing pretty good.

But anyway, so what if they are unable to get health care. In this fantasy land, wouldn’t the same people be unable to get food, housing, safe cars, etc? Shouldn’t we make sure that the government provides them with all of these things?

I have little doubt that if the speaker tonight were made dictator of the US health care system, he would probably set up a better system than the one we have now. But socialism doesn’t work that way. First of all, the system gets set up by a political and bureaucratic process that is what created the current system, so giving that process even more say over the system is likely to make things worse, not better.

Second, why do so many people reject capitalism? It’s the best system out there for just about everything. You want a system where the decisions take into account the personal feelings and desires of the people involved? Then give the consumer the power to make their own decisions and restore the market incentives to allow them to do so. You want an efficient system? Capitalism drives efficiency better than anything else. Government control has never been considered efficient.

I know, I know. It’s not fair. Easy for Warren. He’s a rich lawyer. He can afford to pay for his own medical care.

True. But I can also afford to eat out a lot (I do – way too much), to drive very safe cars (I do, but our newest car is now 5 years old with almost 100K miles on it), to live in a particularly nice house (I do – but it’s not a McMansion or anything), and even to send my kids to private school (no, at least not yet – I’m not that rich).

So why isn’t all of that unfair too? Come to think of it, I even get to take nice trips to interesting places, including a recent trip to the Bahamas. Maybe the government should provide free vacation travel to the poor too.

No way. The thing is, capitalism works. It maintains incentives for individuals, making our economy run more efficiently and growing the pie so there’s more for everyone. Socialism removes incentives, devastates the efficient functioning of the economy, and destroys growth.

The problem with health care today is not a lack of socialism, but rather too much socialism.

Unfortunately, it seems the vast majority of voters buy into the “special” argument. Our education system and popular culture completely reject the benefits of capitalism. I’m not optimistic about our future in this regard.

6 comments to Socialized medicine

  • Great post! I love your whole blog!

  • Anonymous


    Unfortunately, it seems the vast majority of voters buy into the “special” argument. Our education system and popular culture completely reject the benefits of capitalism. I’m not optimistic about our future in this regard.’

    Yeah, that’s how you’ll get elected… insult the voters. It’s *our* fault *you failed* to be elected in 2004 and 2006.

    You act like we’re all too stupid to know who Congressman McNulty really is. We do know. And we like him. It’s not because of the system that he’s served ~20 years. It’s because *we like Congressman McNulty.*

    If that makes us stupid, I’d rather be stupid than elect you. I fully understand the “benefits of capitalism.” It means we have a society where hard work is rewarded and anybody can climb the ladder if they do that hard work. It’s the beauty of America. But when you’re paying ridiculous health premiums (if you’re lucky enough to even be insured) it’s impossible, not hard, to climb that ladder.

    So call me stupid, but I think I’ll keep McNulty on. He’s smart enough not to insult his electorate.

    -Nick Cassaro Delmar, NY
    ncassaro@mail.rochester.edu
    McNulty rules.

  • I don’t understand why Mr. Cassaro thinks I’m attacking Congressman McNulty. I don’t agree with his voting record and policy views, but I do like the guy.
    I never said it was the voters’ fault I didn’t get elected, though I am concerned that many voters know little or nothing about most of the candidates (from local elections all the way up to Congress).
    Before Cassaro chimes in on this, I hope he’ll ask himself if he remembers who the losing candidates were for state assembly, state senate, and US Senate in the last elections.

  • I love your ideas and would recommend a book on the subject, if you haven’t already read it. The book is “Who Killed Health Care?” by Regina Herzlinger. It lays out a plan for true consumer-driven health care whereby the system becomes a true free market system with the individual consumer in control. I think it fit’s perfectly with what you have been posting.

    Why are people so afraid to let individual consumers decide for themselves the best health insurance for their own individual circumstances? Simply do away with group coverage, making individual and family policies the only type of insurance allowed to be sold. This will force the insurance companies to respond to the individuals needs. Create a system, ala 401K, whereby employers can provide funds with which employees then purchase their own insurance on the open market. Why is this so hard to comprehend?

    While removing the socialistic element on the insurance side, make sure to do it on the provider side as well. Allow new, innovative competition in the delivery of health care. The current system has so much government red-tape that it inhibits new models of health care delivery.

  • Anonymous

    “But anyway, so what if they are unable to get health care. In this fantasy land, wouldn’t the same people be unable to get food, housing, safe cars, etc? Shouldn’t we make sure that the government provides them with all of these things?”

    I think thats stretching it…we work hard for what we have and no one should be given a hand out. Education is socialized because we want our country to be educated, so what about our health? Do we not care about that as well?

  • Education is socialized because we want our country to be educated.

    Hmm …

    Food should be socialized because we want our country to be nourished.

    Housing should be subsidized because we want our people to be safe in their homes.

    X should be subsidized because we want X for everyone.

    Or …

    Nothing should be subsidized because we think people will make better choices for themselves than we will make for them.