For some time now the political left has been asserting the need for universal health care in the United States. Health care is a right, they say, and therefore must be provided at the expense of the taxpayer to all citizens. After all, every civilized country does this (at least if you define “civilized” as “providing universal healthcare”) so we must as well if we wish to remain relevant in today’s world.
But what makes health care a right? Several economists have pointed out that health care is a good like any other provided in the marketplace, and if government regulation would get out of the way we would see an efficient allocation of health care the same way we see an efficient allocation of bicycles or umbrellas. Granted, not everybody can afford the same quality of bicycle as Lance Armstrong, but no one is lacking for basic transportation if they really want it.
The left argues that health care is not like other goods, because not being able to afford quality health care can be a matter of life and death. On the surface, it sounds convincing, but a little thought reveals the problem with this line of reasoning. Health care is not unique in its life-preserving properties, not by a long shot. There are all sorts of goods that enhance one’s ability to live a longer, healthier life, and in all of these the rich naturally have an advantage.
The most obvious example is food, and while even the poorest citizens can get food stamps so as to be able to feed themselves, it must be acknowledged that more expensive foods tend to be healthier. This means that the rich will be less likely to suffer from obesity, heart disease and diabetes, all potentially fatal conditions, while the poor are at a disadvantage due to their lack of wealth.
Transportation tells the same story. The rich can afford to fly where the poor must drive—and flying is famously safer than driving. Furthermore, expensive cars offer a greater level of safety than do the inexpensive used cars that the poor may be forced to buy. Poverty, in short, is more likely to get you killed.
There are dozens of examples of ways in which money can extend the length and quality of one’s life, health care being only the most direct and obvious example. Health care is not unique in this regard, and it is not fundamentally different than other goods. If it is our duty to provide first rate health care to all citizens because failing to do so could have negative health consequences, then why is it not also our duty to provide the safest cars and the healthiest foods? If working in a factory is more likely to result in injury than a desk job, why is it not our duty to provide desk jobs for all workers paid for, of course, by taxpayers?
What the left is implicitly objecting to, then, is not the practices of an unjust market for health care, but rather to the very concept of money itself. This is an important point that bears repeating: the health care debate is not about health care, it is about money.
There is an intuition that it is unfair for some to receive high quality goods while others must content themselves with their lower quality counterparts, and the health care market merely serves as a convenient scapegoat and stepping stone towards an outright rejection of personal wealth. One need only observe the vitriol directed towards the so called 1% during this election cycle to see that this is the case.
This is not to imply that those who favor a European style approach towards state-sponsored health care are covert communists trying to secretly impose their agenda on an unsuspecting public. Far from it. Doubtless, the vast majority of proponents for universal health care are sincerely motivated individuals who are merely acting out of a sense of compassion and a dimly understood yearning for equality. The reflex towards collectivism is mostly instinctual rather than rational and, as Hayek teaches us, deeply ingrained in our collective unconscious.
However, if we follow these quite understandable urges to their logical conclusions, the only result is the eventual abolition of private property and a state committed to enforcing strict egalitarianism.
Perhaps it is a shame that the wealthy, some of whom admittedly achieve their elevated status through inheritance, luck, or no meaningful efforts of their own, are blessed with the ability to live longer and healthier lives than the general population. But the alternative results in a society of universal poverty, for the removal of the benefits conferred by wealth also removes the incentive to acquire wealth and therefore to be creative, innovative and productive.
Egalitarianism sounds nice in theory, but it can never result in prosperous, innovative society. If we really care about the poor, we must recognize that the only way to better their lot is to adopt policies that generate wealth for everyone. Free market capitalism demonstrably achieves this, as we can see from the unprecedented increase in living standards that occurred in America from the 19th to the 20th century. Removing the incentives for success does just the opposite.
Logan Albright is a writer in Washington, D.C.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Emma Elliott Freire