One of the arguments used to promote more government involvement in the provision of health care is this: government already provides so many services, and government provides these so well, that we ought to turn over medicine to it too.
The New York Times’ Nicholas D. Kristof made such an argument in a recent column, citing, specifically, “fire protection, police work, education, postal service, libraries, health care” as examples of where “governments fill needs better than free markets.”
This might possibly make sense if the premise of the argument — that government does all this stuff well — wasn’t false. Kristof himself has written several columns in the past year that are critical of public (government) education in America.
Something that almost everyone assumes that only government can provide — libraries — illustrates how we end up with sub-standard institutions and service. My post Consider the alternative to a public library in Wichita provides additional detail.
For deconstruction of the myth that there are things — like police protection and the streets and highways — that government provides best, or government can be the only provider of, see For A New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto by economist Murray N. Rothbard. In his introduction to this work, Lew Rockwell wrote: “Murray Rothbard was the creator of modern libertarianism, a political-ideological system that proposes a once-and-for-all escape from the trappings of left and right and their central plans for how state power should be used. Libertarianism is the radical alternative that says state power is unworkable and immoral.” For streets and highways, see the introduction to Walter Block’s new book A Future of Private Roads and Highways.
Yet, many people love these public institutions because they’re free, or at least they seem to be. It doesn’t cost anything to call the police or to check out a book from the library, and enrolling a child in a public school costs only a modest fee.
But these institutions not free. They cost a great deal. But they seem to be free, and that’s a dangerous illusion.
Already much of the trouble attributed to our health care system stems from its appearance of being free of cost, or at least having very low cost compared to its actual cost. This is the case for Medicare and Medicaid recipients, and for most people who have employer-provided health insurance.
When more people begin considering health care to be free, that will truly be a dangerous time. Our government-run schools, post office, and libraries are not institutions that provide good role models.