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Tuesday, March 14, 2006
Socialized Medicine: Here We Go Again

This idea deserves a cinder block, a burlap bag, and a one-way ride to the bottom of the river. Again!

The editors of The New Republic are calling universal (socialized) health care "a moral imperative." Liberals have lost touch with their roots, they say, and are "chastened and confused, afraid to think big ideas" -- and they mean this big idea in particular. Just so you know where they're coming from, I note that the editors say they regret TNR's role in helping HillaryCare get the public drowning it so richly deserved in the 1990s.

I read TNR because, though it is solidly on the left, it tends to be more intelligent, less touchy-feely, and less vitriolic than a lot of the left's rhetoric. Sometimes its articles are quite smart; sometimes they are merely well written. This is one of the latter times. Alas, good writing cannot prevent this from being a very bad idea. They think that, since a mostly private health care system is a big mess (largely because of government insulating the industry and the customer from market forces, I would say), the solution is for government to take over health care altogether. Obviously, this is not a new topic, but the piece is worth reading, because the liberals are starting to feel their oats again. They'll be dreaming a lot about this foolishness, and the ones who don't have to run for office will most likely be talking about it, too.

The editors seem to think such a health care system will (a) cost less, (b) provide better quality, and (c) reach more of the population. Of these three, (c) is probably true. But this isn't baseball, where one out of three ain't bad. This is more like free throws in basketball, where two out of three ain't good.

Among the gaps in their logic are these.

  • They never account for the fact that a lot of the uninsured (the problem they propose to solve) are uninsured by choice, because they've decided they can afford to be. This could happen two ways: Either they simply can afford coverage and choose not to buy it, or they choose to by luxury items -- large televisions, fancy new pickups or sports cars, extravagant stuff for the children, etc. -- and therefore cannot afford to buy health insurance, as well. (None of this changes the fact that some frugal and responsible people simply cannot afford it either, of course.)
  • They chronicle the private sector's discovery that health benefits are extremely, sometimes unmanageably, expensive in the long term, without noticing that government is almost always less efficient, so its experience is virtually certain to be worse.
  • They never make the case that providing health care to all is a moral imperative. We're just supposed to assume that.
  • They compare us unfavorably to Europe in this matter, without examining the dire economic condition of European welfare states in comparison to the United States.

They actually do say why we should put Washington bureaucrats in charge of our health care: Only government can answer the moral imperative, they claim.

If I were faint and dying from loss of blood, it wouldn't make sense to bleed me with leeches. Yet that is essentially what they propose: a large, extra dose of the problem tarted up as the only possible solution. And this particular tart is faded and wrinkled; their approach to health care is about as antiquated as leeches are in medicine. They acknowledge the idea's advanced age, but say, "'Old' is not the same thing as 'bad'." (I'll bet you won't hear them saying that in defense of the traditional family!) 

Much as they wish they could, major Democratic candidates in 2006 and 2008 won't come out of this closet and and openly favor socialized medicine as long as they think their electoral victory is in doubt. If they embrace the idea openly before the elections, you'll know they've decided they can't lose (or can't win). Somehow, though they despise us, they still fear our opinions. They sense that, though we American voters may love soap operas, TV talk shows, and professional wrestling, we're still not stupid enough to buy this very bad idea.

We don't want Canada's or Britain's intermittently miserable health care system; we don't want Germany's unemployment; and so on. And there's still at least a spark of something adult in some of us, which tells us that people ought basically to take care of themselves and each other, not turn over all adult responsibilities to government.

As ever, we must beware the people who play to our compassion in pursuit of vastly increased powers for government.

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