Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Public or Private?

Having grown up in Saskatchewan, in western Canada, people sometimes ask me, “what health care system do you think is better? The one in Canada?, or the one in the United States? I usually answer that both systems do a reasonable job of providing basic care to most of the people. The differences start to get more dramatic when the health problems get bigger—in Canada you’re at risk of not being able to get the care you need, and in the U.S. you’re at risk of not being able to pay for it. Having said that, let me be clear about which side of the fence I am on. I want the services available to me, and I’ll figure out how to pay for them. That is what most Americans want, and increasing numbers of Canadians want it too. Here is an article about that phenomenon from the Wall Street Journal on September 30, 2009.

Feeling rather grown up and in the prime of my life lately, I have considered myself capable of leadership, even leadership on a big scale, dedicated to solving big problems. For example, in the province of Saskatchewan, there are no private health clinics, surgery centers, diagnostic facilities, or hospitals. Everything is run by the government. And since the government can only forcibly extract so many tax dollars from the citizens before they are at risk of getting tossed out, the main issue with health care in Saskatchewan is that health care services are limited—rationed—by the government.

If I were the Premier of Saskatchewan, I would tell the people that I could fix the problem in 30 seconds if given the mandate to end the government monopoly on the provision of health care. End it, and overnight you would have surgery centers, diagnostic centers, pediatricians, cardiologists, orthopedic docs, and ob-gyn’s opening up private clinics in the larger towns and cities, and family doctors attracted by the pleasant and inexpensive rural lifestyle hanging out their shingles in small, agricultural towns. Fewer of the young doctors, trained at great expense by the University of Saskatchewan, would leave the province for greener pastures. In one stroke of the pen there would be better health care for all, more freedom for all, more jobs and economic activity.

There would be protest, of course. One of the tired arguments for a complete government monopoly is that it forces everyone, rich and poor, to be invested in the system. So the government mandates unnecessary pain and suffering (like waiting two years for a hip replacement) so that everyone is invested in the system. “But that way everything is fair”, the protesters will cry. “Equal access for all. If private clinics are allowed, then there will be two health care systems, one for the rich and one for the poor.”

Does anyone really believe that things are fair under a government monopoly? If the artificially-limited-by-the-government number of pediatricians are booked solid for months, who do you think has a better chance of being “squeezed in.” The young professional couple who count doctors and lawyers and other professionals among their circle of friends, or the poor, young, single mother with no money and no connections. There is no fair. And as for one system for the rich and one for the poor; does the woman in the Wall Street Journal article sound like a rich person? Hardly. More like someone with a modest income who makes a financial sacrifice to improve the quality of her own life. That is fair. That is justice.

Friday, September 25, 2009

While there have been snippets of positive economic news lately—stock markets rising, housing starts up, various pundits declaring that the worst has passed—the overall economic outlook is still pretty dour. Who can really get excited about weekly job losses of 300,000, instead of the usual 500,000? That’s the sort of news that’ll make you double down on the weekly wad of cash that you stuff into a Folger’s can and bury in the backyard. It’s not the kind of news that sends you skipping down the road to the nearest Lexus dealership to pick out a shiny new ride for the Missus or the Mister. What troubles me is it doesn’t have to be this way.

Let me paint a scenario for you, far-fetched though it may be. President Barack Obama goes to bed one night and has a spectacular dream, a vision even. Upon waking, he considers the meaning of the dream and has an epiphany. In a sudden flash of insight, he sees all the lefty-liberal mumbo jumbo that he has spent his whole life absorbing and espousing for what it truly is, a failure. A failure, that is, if one’s motive is man’s welfare. The record of leftist philosophy and policy is much stronger, of course, when judged against other motives like the inducement of economic collapse, numbers of people enslaved, and the establishment of tyranny. But I digress.

Suppose that after this mind-opening incident the President was to schedule a State of the Union address and make a speech in which he announced that henceforth on matters of the economy, he was going to pursue legislation which, in general, would reduce taxation, regulation, and any other unwarranted government intrusion into the realm of private initiative and commerce. Suppose that to back up his words, he immediately stated that he would lobby for an extension of the Bush tax cuts that are due to expire in 2010, propose reductions in capital gains and corporate tax rates, announce that he would veto any cap and trade legislation that Congress brought to his desk, and ask Congress for market based health care reforms. In other words, he quits channeling FDR, and starts channeling Ronald Reagan. My friends, the economy would turn on a dime. Stock markets would avoid a double dip and continue to rise, factories and industries that have either been shuttered or constrained would open and expand, and citizens, more confident in the security of their employment and the size of their paychecks, would purchase goods and services that they have recently foresworn. Oh, and despite the loud and strident cries of betrayal from some of the more committed leftists in the Congress, the media, Hollywood, and the citizenry, the republican versus democrat polarization in the country would ease.

Why? Because thankfully, the majority of the people in the United States get uneasy when they realize that “fundamental change” has a whole different meaning for a leftist politician than it does for a small business owner already burdened by taxes and regulations. The American people, in whom the true meaning of “inalienable rights” still resonates more strongly than any other people on earth find it much easier to vote for legislation that increases freedom and personal responsibility, and decreases taxation and regulation. Cap and trade legislation, single-payer government run health care, and card check all do the opposite. If any of these initiatives pass in their current, Nancy Pelosi congress designed form, they will pass grimly, and we will all, in the long run, be the worse for it.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Is Health Care a Right?

I recently read an article which referenced an OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) study on the state of health care in the United States. Needless to say, the article was critical; it made note of high per capita spending, the low number of people (as related to the whole population) that the spending is focused on, and the generally poorer health of all Americans as compared to all Canadians, or to the population of France and other countries with standards of living that are somewhat comparable to the standards enjoyed in the United States. If these statements are true, and there is probably some truth to them, we should indeed be having conversations about the ways that health care needs to be made more affordable and more effective. But the last sentence of the article caught my attention. It argued that if the United States is serious about transforming health care, and if the country views widely available health care as both a public good and a human right, as other advanced countries do, then much of the private ownership and profit motive of the health care system would have to be sacrificed.

Here’s where things get interesting. Undoubtedly, widely available health care is a public good (and there’s certainly more than one way to provide it), but is health care a human right? Can you provide it for yourself? No? If health care is a human right, then it belongs to each and every one of us as a condition of our humanity. If it belongs to us, then we must have the right to take it, by force, without any compensation due, from whoever possesses the learning and the skills to deliver it. If health care is a right, then health care workers are slaves. Any alleged “right” that necessitates the confiscation of the product of another’s mind and labor is not, and cannot be a right. We do not have any rights to anything that someone else provides for us, such as a home, a car, a job, or health care.

Having dispelled the notion of health care as a right, let’s go back to the philosophy behind its provision. The author of the article draws from the adoption of similar policies in a number of nations the conclusion that nationalized health care is superior to the system currently in place in the United States. This conclusion reminds me of the current global warming “crisis.” Global warming alarmists, most of whom have interests that are dramatically at odds with the general well-being of mankind, like to inform us that scientific analysis has led to a “consensus” that cannot be questioned, for fear of ultimate peril. What every person should consider is that there may be a “consensus”, but it may be entirely, utterly wrong. The same with health care—other governments may provide it, but it isn’t the best solution for this country, and maybe not for any country.

The United States of America is different from the rest of the world. It was founded on the notion of liberty—the freedom to pursue one’s own interests. The direct consequence of that freedom is wealth, productivity, happiness, and creativity on a scale that is without equal. It should not be abrogated by further expansion of government into the realm of private initiative and responsibility. Responsibility is a brother of freedom, and one of our responsibilities is to take care of ourselves.

President George W. Bush, though often guilty of various linguistic gaffes (remember “cinco de cuatro”, oh wait, that was President Obama), delivered a prepared speech as well as anyone, and a line from one of his State of the Union addresses has stuck with me for several years now. He said, “freedom is mankind’s elixir.” And he is right. Why else have people from around the world clamored to come here for centuries now? The United States is a shining beacon of freedom, and it should not be dimmed.