By Andy Matthews
Imagine you’re a farmer facing a long winter. You had a rough harvest. You and your family will be able to make it through the winter, but food will be tight and appetites won’t always be fully satisfied. You also have a large barrel of seed corn to plant in the spring that will provide food for you next year.
Do you eat the seed corn this winter?
If you answered no, you’re probably a fiscal conservative, because you understand that many times you need to delay gratification in the present in order to create a better future.
In contrast, many liberal policies benefit some in the short term while increasing the risk of suffering in the long term.
A great example is socialized medicine. To hear a liberal describe it, you’d get universal health care by making all medicine “free” to the consumer, since it’s paid for by the government.
Now, the immediate reaction might be to think that this sounds good — just as it might sound good to your family when they’re told they can eat the seed corn in the winter. But in each case, the consequences of that decision — while not immediately apparent — would be devastating.
In the case of government-run health care, this decision would not simply be unwise. It would also be immoral. That’s because the process involves the government taking money from someone for purposes beyond what is necessary to defend life, liberty and property. Governments are created to protect rights, not to redistribute property, and the mere fact that government confiscation of wealth may be legal — and deemed by some to be “for the common good” — doesn’t make it legitimate or morally justifiable.
But let’s focus on the practical consequences of government-run medicine. One result is that it exacerbates shortages of medical care. Scarcity is a reality in any economic system, but the beauty of the free market (which we don’t currently have in American health care) is two-fold.
One, prices tell people how scarce something is, which allows individuals to reduce demand for care by comparing it to their next best alternative — “Do I have to go to the ER, or would an urgent-care option work?” Also, high prices encourage more individuals to become doctors and nurses, while also spurring innovation. While demand for medical care will always outstrip supply (scarcity), individuals in a free-market society will create ever more supply, which increases access by lowering prices.
Contrast this with a system of government-run health care. When you make something free, you greatly increase the demand for it, as a basic supply-and-demand chart shows. And unlike in a free-market system, government control deprives doctors of major financial and other incentives, like being able to set their own hours, which leads to “brain drain.” The inevitable inefficiencies of government also decrease supply.
Finally, because of skyrocketing demand and diminishing supply, government-run medicine leads to rationing.
This is inevitable. Consuming the wealth of a nation through the taxing or borrowing that government-run medicine requires — akin to eating your seed corn — may delay this for a time. But ultimately it will happen. And in the case of government medicine, rationing can take the form of extensive waiting lists, denial of treatment or “helping” sick patients die faster.
Great Britain, which has had socialized medicine for decades, does all three.
Under optimal conditions, British heart-disease and cancer patients wait more than five-and-a-half months for treatment. British “health” officials have rejected the use of a life-saving liver- cancer drug because it cost too much. British doctors use a “death pathway” — removing food and hydration — to kill 130,000 elderly patients per year. Tragically, this practice is now being used to kill children and disabled infants.
One doctor described the impact of depriving a child of food and water as “the unique horror of witnessing a child become smaller and shrunken.”
Once a society eats its seed corn, it eats its children.
May America — by understanding the morality and functionality of free markets — wake up in time.
Andy Mathews is president of the Nevada Policy Research Institute.