At Any Cost
posted at 12:56 am on December 17, 2009 by Doctor Zero
Writing about health-care reform in the New York Post, Kirsten Powers asks:
What will health-care reform cost?
This question has become the obsession distracting us from the moral imperative to provide health care to all Americans.
The richest, most powerful, most amazing nation in the world should treat its citizens who fall ill better than some broken Third World country. If we can afford to try to rebuild Afghanistan with little hope of success, then arguing about paying for Americans to have health coverage seems petty.
This is a concise summary of the child-like belief system that produces disasters like ObamaCare. It has become the final, desperate argument of liberals as their push for government control of health care collapses. Later in her essay, Powers puts it even more bluntly:
But when it comes to health-care reform, Democrats and the Obama Administration have ignored the big picture: Americans will die if we don’t provide universal health insurance.
Never mind the costs, you greedy fools! People will die if we don’t nationalize the entire health-care sector of our economy! Note that Powers does not even pretend to talk about “public options” or government-funded “alternatives” to private health insurance. The only alternatives are “free” health care for everyone, or a mountain of corpses. By extension, anyone stubborn and venal enough to oppose the life-affirming moral imperative of national health care must want people to die.
The black irony that socialized medicine will, inevitably, pay for abortions is doubtless lost on her. I guess we’re only supposed to be concerned about the free market killing those who accomplish the wondrous transformation from non-viable tissue mass into fully-vested member of the proletariat, by managing to escape the maternity ward with a beating heart.
As infantile as this line of reasoning seems, it deserves serious engagement, because it is a common argument used by the Left to cut off debate. Stop asking questions, stop fretting about your liberties, and stop being suspicious of our magnificent President and the wizards of Congress. Don’t you know that people are dying out there? Why, in the time required for the aborted reading of the 767-page Sanders amendment Wednesday night, a sizable number of uninsured Americans must have given up the ghost. I’m sure Kirsten Powers could get us a rough estimate of the death toll from the Urban Institute.
If there’s a moral imperative to provide health care for everyone without regard to the cost, then we should stop fooling around with half-measures and enslave doctors. There’s no reason we should allow them expensive creature comforts, vacations, or other luxuries that would distract them from spending every waking hour providing health care. If the State’s moral requirement to provide free health care to its citizens over-rides their property rights… if it’s acceptable to punish them with huge fines and imprisonment for failing to co-operate with government control… then there is no reason to respect any individual liberties of health-care providers. People are dying, doctors. You can live at the medical facilities, and function passably well with seven hours of sleep and two hour-long meal breaks. We can conscript nurses, technicians, and orderlies to assist the doctors. The government can seize whatever land is needed for medical facilities, and commandeer whatever transportation is required to get sick people to the captive physicians.
You might raise the practical objection that slave doctors would be unlikely to provide high quality medical care. Also, you wouldn’t find many people choosing medical careers in the future. We could pluck promising students from high school and junior college, and march them into med schools to begin their lives of servitude, but the quality of care would probably decline even further. Even if we can get past the whole “slavery” hang-up… which should not be difficult for people who think the Constitution authorizes Congress to throw citizens in jail for failing to purchase government-approved health insurance.. it’s a system that would not improve public health, because it would not increase public access to quality medical care. We would be increasing supply at a horrendous loss of quality… and the catastrophic loss of quality is, ultimately, a reduction in supply. One good doctor is worth far more than a dozen miserable medical thralls, who keep looking away from your test results to calculate their odds of jumping over the electrified fences and disarming their explosive collars.
What we need to do, in order to save the lives of those with serious illness, is increase the supply of medical care. If we tried to impose a command structure on our economy, to force the supply of medicine to improve, we would suffer reductions in the quality of life in other areas. Would anyone want to live in a country where military bases, fire houses, grocery stores, and libraries were sacrificed to divert maximum resources into building hospitals and staffing them with doctors? This is not a fanciful question, because governments around the world have employed precisely this type of command economy over the last century, designed by allegedly wise and compassionate collectivists to invest national productivity with scientific accuracy. All of them – every last one – were miserable failures, soaked in poverty, violence, and environmental neglect. It’s easy to find the socialized medicine systems of the world – just look for the sick people desperately trying to escape from them, or the frightened and agonized pregnant women languishing in their hellish maternity wards.
To provide maximum access to high-quality health care, or a high quality supply of anything else, society needs a system of allocating its resources efficiently. It needs a way to measure the value of a billion working hours each day. It must find the best method of encouraging talented people to spend those hours in jobs that take advantage of their talents. In the realm of medicine, there must be a swift and accurate system for routing the desperately ill into hospitals, outpatients into clinics, and people with headcolds into corner pharmacies. It’s absurd to devote the same medical resources to a healthy teenager, a reasonably fit retiree, and a cancer patient.
The most efficient tool for allocating these resources is money. It is vastly superior to complex and fraudulent government programs, cobbled together by squabbling senators, and passed with votes purchased with billions in taxpayer loot. If doctors followed Kirsten Powers’ beliefs, and allowed “moral imperatives” to completely over-ride practical considerations, our hospitals would be filled with weeping physicians and dead patients. To assert that something must be done “at any cost” is to speak the language of tyrants, because it summarily dismisses the objections of those who must bear the costs. A rapidly swelling number of Americans reserve the right to express those objections, because we are not prepared to relinquish control over one-seventh of our economy to children.