Economics and the Health Care Debate
by J. R. Nyquist, Global Analyst. February 26, 2010
The complex market system that allows more than six billion earthlings to feed and clothe themselves is called capitalism. It is a system that produces unequal results. But if you take away capitalism the number of human beings on the planet will go into decline. In other words, people will starve to death. Without economic inequality there is no economic vitality, and no six billion people. Wherever capitalism is chastised and the government attempts to equalize or regulate economic outcomes, productive activity is discouraged; whether it is about growing food, making medicine, or building a better mousetrap. Take the following examples: Force fishermen to take government inspectors onto their boats, and you get less fish. Pass legislation to protect spotted owls in the Pacific Northwest, and you get less timber. Eliminate prosperous farmers in favor of poor farmers, and food production will go into decline. Make health care a political right under a government program, and many doctors will give up medicine altogether.
"The most passionate detractors of capitalism," wrote Ludwig von Mises, "are those who reject it on account of its alleged injustice." In terms of health care, everyone cannot afford the best doctors or treatments. Even if you have health insurance, your coverage may not give you access to the best hospitals, the best nurses, or the best private care. And here is a scandal. Here is an injustice that must be eradicated. There ought to be equality between people. But this outcome is impossible. The best doctors are few in number, and cannot treat everyone. Government can only equalize treatment by eliminating the best doctors altogether. This idea is not, of course, expressly stated in proposed health care legislation. It is merely implied, and glossed over; for the government cannot create excellent doctors for everyone. The government can only institute a regime of health care rationing.
People should understand that doctors do not exist in unlimited supply. "Nature is not bountiful but stingy," wrote Mises in his book, The Anti-Capitalist Mentality. "It has restricted the supply of all things indispensable for the preservation of human life." The government cannot legislate abundance. Only free men, operating under a system of free cooperation, can increase the quality of health care. Government control of health care signifies a system of enforced servitude on the one side, or enforced tribute on the other. It has the obnoxious effect of driving doctors out of their chosen profession, lowering the standard of care for nearly everyone.
"National health care is the mother of all entitlement programs," noted Mark R. Levin in his book Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto. "Social security is going bankrupt. Medicare is going bankrupt. Medicaid is going bankrupt. These programs and others have accumulated more than $50 trillion in IOUs due and payable by subsequent generations." So you want government health care? The entire system is spiraling toward bankruptcy. How is government health care going to make things better? At a time when businesses are failing and markets are struggling, government wants to manage a larger and larger portion of the economy. History teaches that government intervention in the economy produces inefficiency and waste. There is no doubt of this whatsoever. How will the economy recover from its present crisis as government gobbles up one sector after another?
If you think insurance companies or doctors are greedy, what do you say of politicians who want to manage large chunks of the economy? And what about voters who imagine they have voted themselves benefits? What about their greed?
Let us propose free bread, free medical care, free houses for everyone. Let us vote these things for ourselves. Is this not greed on our part? And who must be robbed to pay for all these freebies? Surely, the idea of getting something for nothing is poisonous. It is corrupt and dishonest. Only yesterday I heard a woman on the street angrily declare that the government is not properly redistributing the country's wealth. But what is "the country's wealth" except the wealth of individual citizens? The government has now become a power that redistributes wealth and property from one group of people to another.
The private relationship between doctor and patient is now going to become subject to a government committee. On what grounds does the doctor give up his right to practice as he sees fit? On what grounds does the government dictate medical treatments to patients? The rationing of health care forces these issues to the front. Do we want a Health Care Commissioner, or a health care advisory committee, or subsidies for undocumented aliens, or government determination of doctor salaries, or small businesses going under because they cannot afford to provide health care for minimum wage employees? In an economy where retrenchment is already ongoing, more jobs are bound to be lost.
But many agree that the health care system is broken. So government is to fix the problem? Just like they won the war on drugs, crime and poverty. Just like they fixed education, and the family court system. Anyone who understands today's social problems can see that government has solved nothing. In fact, there is no way government can fix our health care problem, especially when government has lost sight of its basic function (i.e., national security). Every solution offered by government leads to further problems: dependency, corruption, economic inefficiency, clogged courts and crowded prisons, schools that graduate illiterates, broken homes and neglected children.
It almost seems that our growing softness and pacifism, our unwillingness to confront enemies abroad, has led us to invent an alternative role for government. Yes, spoiling the citizenry. No longer will government provide for the common defense. This is too ugly, and too unpleasant. Better to let government feed us, burp us, and change our collective diaper. When we are thus reduced to infancy, helpless and pacified in our Great Crib, our enemies will be more than ready to steal into our nursery to take from us everything we have. And it will be, as they say, like taking candy from a baby.
The reduction of the citizen to a helpless, dependent creature is now trumpeted as the chief purpose of government. It is logical, as well, that as the citizens are weakened the government is strengthened, and the power of the state eclipses the freedom of the individual. "As long as the problems of socialism were merely a matter of debates," wrote Mises, "people who lack clear judgment and understanding could fall prey to the illusion that freedom could be preserved under a socialist regime. Such self-deceit can no longer be nurtured since the Soviet experience has shown to everybody what conditions are in a socialist commonwealth."
After the government has taken over the management of health care, the socialists will find yet another industry to target. As each sector of the economy is colonized by government, as each citizen is guaranteed free health care, free bread or lodging, the power of the state will grow as the individual withers. The state, said Nietzsche, "is the coldest of all cold monsters." And it was cold comfort to watch this week's healthcare summit on television.
© 2010 J. R. Nyquist