Uhm, No

16 September 2009

I recently read someone defending socialism on the ground that socialism has the same root as does society. Well, I don't object to society. And I venture to guess that she doesn't object to fathers, yet I go further to guess that she does object to what's called patriarchy. One mustn't over-reach with etymology, with dear old dad, nor with society.

I've previous explained the economic calculation problem of socialism: Rational allocation of resources requires trade-off signals that reflect as much relevant information as practicable. Most of the relevant information is highly decentralized, and some of it (such as the expectations and preferences of participants) is intrinsically so. A market brings that information into play by way of prices (trade-off signals) developed by the give-and-take of would-be consumers and of would-be sellers. Socialists haven't developed an alternative; they correct the market only at the cost of over-all misallocations with their own costs in human welfare.

This point is as true in the delivery of health care as anywhere else. Almost everyone agrees that American health-care delivery is in appalling shape, but there are those who ignore that the problems have grown as state interventions have increased. Commentators frequently note that costs have exploded in the last fourteen years, but then most of these commentators are silent on the fact that the period followed upon the last round of reforms. Of course, the period before those reforms wasn't itself some sort of golden age; the reforms were effected because many things were seen to be worse than once they were, and getting worse still. But, again, due attention was not paid to the rôle of prior state intervention in effecting that worsening. This routine of blaming what remains of a market for the mounting problems of an increasingly state-controlled system began well before I was born.

Many people, even defenders of socialized medicine for the United States, admit that the socialized systems elsewhere have some dramatic flaws. The belief of the defenders is that the United States can develop a better system, perhaps in part by learning from the problems of other states. But the deep problem is, again, that of trade-off signals. And one of the seldom-recognized implications of that is that greater state control here has led and will lead to a worsening of systems elsewhere. A state-controlled system can somewhat compensate for its own inability to formulate rational trade-off signals by being guided (directly or indirectly) by prices generated elsewhere. (This solution is imperfect because the prices of one region cannot be expected to be ideal for another; and, if they were, using them fully would generate exactly the same out-comes as would be effected by a free market, rendering the socialism absurd.) Implicitly, production and distribution of health care in the industrialized nations with more socialized medicine has been significantly guided by the choices made in the United States. To the extent that our prices as well continue to become the guesses of bureaucrats rather that the outcomes of interaction between free consumers and free producers, socialized medicine everywhere will be shooting in an ever-growing darkness.

Even assuming that morality can somehow ignore such practical problems, the morality of the claims for socialized medicine strikes me as utterly bogus. Many people declare health care to be a fundamental right, but that's plainly incoherent as one could exercise any fundamental right without the presence and assistance of other people. There have been very few attempts to build ground-up cases for a moral entitlement to health care — identifying some actual fundamental right from which a right to health care is derived in a social context — and every one with which I'm familiar has been exploded on logical grounds. Mostly people just confuse the appealing proposition that it would be a very fine thing if no one was denied health care for simple lack of resources with there being a right to health care. There are a great many hypotheticals that would be very fine things. I know people such that it would be a very fine thing if they had the companionship of someone of the desired sex, and such that they would like that even more than access to medical care; I hardly think that we should force someone else to provide that companionship though.

Some very fine things become very vile things when delivered by virtue of confiscations, regardless of whether we imagine that the confiscation is effected by society, or recognize that it is by a state or by a gang or by a mob.

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