A few days ago I had the opportunity to participate in a brief discussion on the subject of healthcare, more precisely, whether it is a right or a privilege. The person I was talking with is one of those who frames the debate in terms of a false dilemma: healthcare is either a right or a privilege. If it is not one it must be the other, the former being the morally upright side of the debate, the latter being on the side of evil corporations and systemic greed aimed at killing and robbing as many poor people as possible.
Stated again, this is a false dilemma. Healthcare is neither a right or a privilege, it is a service subject to scarcity and hence, subject also to the principles of economics.
Consider for a moment the fact that, in our nation, we have achieved near-universal television and cell phone ownership. Smartphones, specifically, aren’t far behind in the race to ubiquitous ownership. There was a time when televisions and cellular telephones were luxuries enjoyed only by the rich. Since that bygone era of technological deprivation and elitism, the prices for these items have plummeted and the quality of each has surged. To this day, the prices continue to drop and the quality continues to increase both in accordance with Moore’s Law.
How did we accomplish such a feat? It’s not brain surgery.
Look to any market sector or industry where the government has taken upon itself the onus of controlling costs and prices and you’ll see a market sector or industry with skyrocketing costs and prices out of control. This is as true of college tuition as it is of health care. The more government intervenes with supposedly good intentions, the more problematic the problems becomes.
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York has elucidated the problem in regards to college tuition. You can read the whole white paper but it’s not difficult to sum it up in a few words: Government guarantees of endless money provide institutions of higher learning with no incentive to bring costs down. As long as Big Brother keeps the money coming, colleges and universities can keep jacking up costs.
The details are different with healthcare but the premise remains the same: The more government “helps” the worse the problem gets.
Obsessed with the notion that healthcare is a right, the Left has injected all manner of nonsensical policy making into the mix. Flawed presuppositions will always lead to flawed results – in this case, the Left has decided that scarcity, the number one influencing factor in economics, doesn’t apply to healthcare. Put simply, this is just about as stupid of an idea as one can conjure. Everything, everything, is subject to scarcity. It could be widgets or MRI machines or thingamajigs or competent nurses. If you pass a law that ignores something as simple and fundamental to reality as this principle, then you’ll end up with consequences much like what we’re observing today: exploding costs and decreasing access to quality care. In a sector where government intervention doesn’t attempt to circumvent natural market forces, a sector such as, I don’t know… televisions and cell phones, we see prices fall and quality increase.
Conservatives and libertarians want the smartphone of healthcare, while economically illiterate statists like Bernie Sanders want to keep us stuck with the rotary phone. These folks are a lot of things but progressive they are not.
Further, all the talk of shrinking the cost of health insurance completely misses the point: We need to be talking about increasing the supply of healthcare. All too often insurance and care are conflated to mean the same thing and the result is that monumentally important aspects of the debate are totally lost, such as limited supply leading to growing costs. We need more doctors, nurses, hospitals, clinics, syringes, defibrillators, medicine, etc., and we need to make it easier to bring these products to the market. If we can do that, then all this talk of insurance becomes moot as long as Big Brother allows the market to self-correct.
If the government were to remove all student loan programs, colleges would be compelled by market forces to bring their prices down or else face a complete loss of all student enrollment. The correction would be painful for a year. Maybe two. Maybe a lot less than that. It’s difficult to say how quickly the market will work but don’t be surprised if it works faster than you think it can. People conditioned to the sluggish incompetence of the state aren’t prepared to expect anything good to happen in a timely manner.
The same holds true for healthcare. Get the government out of the way and watch the market move to fill the void. People are quick to condemn profits because they’re allegedly indicative of avarice and the sick and needy shouldn’t be subjected to the whims of greedy profiteers. These same people don’t seem to realize that evil corporations are as motivated by avoiding losses as they are by reaping the rewards of profits. It doesn’t behoove any corporation to screw its customers, especially in a free market where competitors can shift their tactics to undercut unscrupulous players. The profiteers may be greedy, but in a truly free market they would be kept honest.
In a free market, the easiest way to get rich is by providing as many people as possible with the best products possible at the lowest possible price. It’s why we have near-universal television and smartphone ownership. It’s why we can achieve universal healthcare without Big Brother continuing to pave the road to hell with its supposedly good intentions.
Healthcare isn’t a right (food for thought: does one really have a right to the time and labor of another individual?) and it’s not a privilege. It’s a service subject to the reality of scarcity. Until we begin treating it as what it is we can expect to see the problem remain and worsen.