It’s the meme that just won’t die: “Nobody should have to die because they don’t have health insurance.” Yesterday, a New Jersey paper repeated the idea: “Living without health insurance is a risk no one should have to take — and it affects all of us.” It’s an echo of the “viral” Facebook status from a few months back:
“No one should die because they cannot afford health care, and no one should go broke because they get sick.”
This is apparently the argument that swayed Dennis Kucinich’s vote: “something,” he said, “is better than nothing” when so many people have had to go without.
Let’s break this down.
The simple fact of human nature is this: people have a lot of needs — and a lot of whims. If resources were unlimited, there’d be no need for the study of economics. But a person cannot fulfill most of his wants unless others are cooperative in providing what’s necessary to do so. One cannot simply snap his fingers and receive a new novel, for instance: someone has to do the writing, another person must perform the editing; another, the publishing — and so on. And such professionals are unlikely to spend much time doing so unless they receive some kind of compensation through which to provide for their wants.
This is common sense. There’s nothing inherently complicated about this: it’s basic economics.
Unfortunately for man’s impulses, economics is a study of the world as it is rather than as we would like it to be. And an identical analysis applies to health care services. Life is not as the progressives would have us believe it is: that there’s a locked room out there with life-saving coverage for all of the dying women and children on Earth — and the only reason that we can’t get into that room is because House Republicans won’t give Nancy Pelosi the key.
Health care, though, like a great work of literature, does not simply fall out of the sky — or emerge by government fiat. New innovations in health care are primarily products not of labor, but of the mind. It takes a decade of training to be a doctor (far more training, as we now know, than it takes to be president), and when an attempt to devise a new drug falls short, pharmaceutical companies can’t simply print up more money or will it into existence by force. It’s not like a kink in the assembly line — doctors and developers must regroup their intellects and revisit the entire process. This free-enterprise system is a long-term, thankless effort. It is also one that has allowed a disproportionate number of breakthroughs in medical science to come from the United States.
Health care is a finite resource like any other, and the cold, economic term for what has to occur when a resource is limited is — rationing. The unfortunate, unavoidable fact is that in the final analysis, some people are simply going to have to go without. This is true of everything: from cars to fine dining to education at elite universities, anything that is difficult to produce will be both expensive and scarce. Pumping more subsidies into the process will not increase the number of doctors that have been trained or the number of drugs that have been developed. Just because a process is vital does not mean that it can violate the ironclad rules of economics.
The real question at hand, then, is whether free men in free markets should be the ones making the decisions — or whether an omnipotent government, stacked top to bottom with bureaucrats who have never worked in the private sector, should be dictating what people can do with the products of their own minds. The latter course exemplifies the arrogance of power: “You put in the innovative work,” the bureaucrat says, “and I’ll tell you what you’re allowed to do with it.”
A war against the laws of economics is a war against reality: you cannot win. As the great Francis Bacon put it: ‘nature, to be controlled, must be obeyed.’ It takes years to train doctors and create new drugs — and only twenty minutes to consume their services. But it takes only one Congressional roll call to pull the rug out from under America’s innovative class.
Talk to Alex Knepper at email@example.com