Not as easy as it looks
By Daniel M. Ryan
The Obama Administration's much-press-agented health-care reform has been running into unexpected roadblocks. A solid majority of the Blue Dog Democrats broke off negotiations last Friday, saying that they were lied to by Rep. Henry Waxman. Already-defiant Texas Gov. Rick Perry is threatening to invoke Texas' 10th amendment rights and is hinting at nullification. President Obama's sales job isn't going very well, either. Dr. Richard Kerr, a pediatrician and member of the West Virginia Libertarian Party, is demanding that Obama apologize for insinuating that doctors sometimes put high fees over proper treatment. Dr. Kerr ended his public remonstrance with this rebuttal: "For President Obama's information, pediatricians do not perform tonsillectomies. If he doesn't know that, then he has no business centrally planning your family's health care."
Even worse for the Administration, opposition seems to be growing as the bill is read. A fellow by the name of Peter Fleckstein actually Twitter-read the House version under the nick "Fleckman." EconomicPolicyJournal.com reprinted Mr. Fleckstein's Twitter comments, and a Webpage at FamilySecurityMatters.com has translated them into more standard English. Both versions are itemized with section- and page-references to the original bill; the reader can verify the summaries. [The bill itself is here, in PDF form.] John Allison III, over at "America, You Asked For It!", notes certain inconsistencies between Obama's description of the bill and the bill itself. In a back-track reminiscent of a more recent one, President Obama admitted that he was not familiar with the bill's contents. As time goes on, more and more people are.
As the current Secretary of State can attest to, "health care reform" goes hand-in-glove with "it's not easy as it looks." That's because any such initiative is rooted in compulsion, and has to impose rationing to some extent. According to the verifiable FSM.org-posted highlights, both are in the House bill. Given the liberal-centered denials, and the size of the bill, I suggest a rule of thumb concerning long liberal-initiated bills: their core principle(s) are pretty much what conservative critics said they were, and the seemingly endless modifications are attempts to either paper over the consequences or fuzzify the principle.
What's Wrong With Health-Care Socialism?
Some liberals believe that Americans' reflexive opposition to health-care socialism reflects American irrationality or prejudice. Striking a daring pose, they assert that there's nothing wrong with health-care socialism. These types are also prone to dismiss out of hand any criticisms of their own views in the matter, even fact-based objections. We're quite familiar with that side of them.
Nevertheless, the question deserves to be asked. What is wrong with health-care socialism?
First of all, the economics of the situation. Compared with the suppleness of the marketplace, rationing is a very blunt instrument. Just consider what rationing would mean for a more immediate life essential: food. How would your life change if you had a ration coupon for foods, only available through government-approved depots, and you had to make do with what you've got? Choices would be limited to whatever can be made with the rationed foods, and would be constrained by their quantities. There would be no spontaneity in food purchases. No midnight snack runs. No popping into the convenience store when the old diet becomes too much to stand. No adventures.
Some liberals might argue that such a regimen is good for cultivating forethought, but it's forethought of a rigid and brittle kind. The kind that leads to learned helplessness when the ration restrictions are lifted. The kind that banishes flexibility, and the creativity that goes along with it. Quite a non-monetary price to pay to appease a group who members think that people are naturally inclined to fecklessness.
It may be objected that health care is more suited to rationing than food because there's far less scope for innovation and breakthroughs, ones not requiring lengthy and rigid protocols. Those objections remind me of the now-impugnable claim that certain utilities are "natural monopolies." How's phone deregulation been treating everyone? How's your copper-circumventing wireless? [I'm tempted to ask, "how's your micro-processor radiotelephone?"]
Another objection treats health care in a manner inconsistent with another service used while under emotional stress: the funeral parlor. Once again, this objection assumes that people do not plan ahead of their own free will when they're calm.
These economics-centered points, along with more technical ones speaking to the inherent inefficiencies of socialism, don't get to the heart of a certain darkness. Once the government is the provider, then certain political complications arise.
If I break my arms and spend tens of thousands of dollars for an operation to fix it up, I might wind up feeling like a fool. If I can't afford the expensive operation, and my arm heals crooked, then I'll not only have regrets but also a life lesson. Ignatius Loyola found God because a cannonball broke his leg. After seeing it heal crooked, and consumed by the need to appear handsome and fully-formed in court, he ordered it re-broken and re-set…until finding God made him finally see his body-vanity.
On the other hand: if I'm entitled by right to a government-provided operation without cost to myself, I'm in a different situation. I'm not paying; the taxpayers are. Instead of bumping into my own budgetary limitations, I'm whittling at the government's. If I were at any way at fault, then I'm not wasting private money. I'm wasting the government's resources, ones that definitely can be used for other people.
It's not too hard to go from there to the opinion that I'm injuring the health-care system by being careless. Anyone in that situation is going to get defensive, and will act in one of two ways: either accept the minimal amount of care, perhaps out of concern for overloading the health-care system, or else belligerently demand top-dollar care so as to show no guilt. The need to show clean hands is one unmentioned factor in pushing up costs and overloading capacities. After all, there's a case to be made that only the guilty would meekly demand minimal care, to mitigate their irresponsibility.
A government takeover of health care politicizes it, in a manner far more profound that what we're accustomed to. Deciding to validate your worthiness as a citizen by demanding top-level care is a political decision. So is deciding that you're not all that badly off, and have no business crowding the line. Under government-owned health care, the self-operating fellow at the beginning of Sicko could be easily presented as a stalwart friend of the health-care system. In an era of scarce resources, he didn't crowd the public's line - now did he?
Daniel M. Ryan blogs these days about low P/E stocks.
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