Obama’s Malthusian Health Care Lockbox
It is simply not true that health care is a zero-sum game, that someone's gain is someone else's loss.
August 1, 2009 - 12:03 am
The Inuit of the Arctic used to sacrifice their old people to save food for the rest of the clan during the long winters. The elders were expected to commit suicide. As they ran low on food and fuel, as sled dogs were slaughtered and eaten, the old ones walked into the long night and died. It made sense because there was a limited amount of food and warmth, and so many months of cold and darkness to go before the sun came back. If the elders resisted they might be publicly shamed. They would rather die. And so they walked into the snow.
It’s astonishing, but that’s the reasoning Barack Obama is using for the United States today. Obama’s command seizure of one-sixth of the American economy is based on the assumption that medicine is a zero-sum game. The trouble is that Obama’s assumption is false — and destructive. It has been falsified by every single advance in human health since the Industrial Revolution. It’s simply not true that there is a fixed supply of medical care, one that cannot grow, become more effective, cost less, and make our lives better and longer. It is not true that my gain must be your loss.
Obama thinks the way Thomas Malthus did in 1798. But Malthus was wrong then, just like Obama is now.
So here’s the question for every American. Under ObamaCare, when we really will have to divide up a Malthusian lockbox of federal money, how much will your life be worth? Your spouse’s? Your child’s? Your parents’? If you are an aging boomer, is your life worth as much as Sarah Palin’s baby, born with Down Syndrome? And whom do you trust with the God-like power to make those decisions?
If we have a limited budget for all medical care — no more and no less — who is entitled to that extra dollar of care? Is it Michelle Obama or you? Your grandchildren? Ted Kennedy? Or some family in Somalia? For socialists, all the people of the world deserve the same medical care that you get. There is a fixed amount of medical dollars in the world. Your gain is their loss.
Older people spend a lot more on doctors than younger people. Should they be stopped from spending their money on staying healthy? If you spend your money on health care, does that subtract from the medical care of a young Mexican immigrant?
The Obama belief is that it does. But that’s not the reality of medical science since the 1860s.
Take as an example clean water. It has saved more lives than any other advance in history. It was public sanitation that triggered the first great leap in life expectancy, starting in 1869, when Louis Pasteur figured out how typhoid fever spread.
Public sanitation has doubled the human life span since then. All it took was separating the food and water supply from our bodily wastes. Now, if you’re Obama, you believe all those miles of plumbing are a cost — everybody in the country has to pay for it. But if you’re in touch with economic reality you see it as a net benefit. Sure it takes money to lay all those pipes for fresh water and to dispose of sewage. But life expectancy has doubled. That’s not a net cost; it’s an unimaginable benefit for all those lucky people. (That would be us, our parents, and children.)
If you’re Obama you think, “Uh-Oh, more money to spend on bodies that live twice as long!” That’s Obama’s Malthusian lockbox thinking. What we find in reality is that those longer-living people are healthier, more vigorous, think more clearly, have more fun, are better educated, generate more wealth and productivity, and create a gigantic demand for goods and services that keep industrialized economies humming. (If you allow markets to work, that is.)
Spending money on public sanitation is a wealth-generator. If you don’t believe Western history, look at India and China since the end of communism. Or take a look at South Korea versus North Korea. Which one is the Malthusian society, with hundreds of thousands of people dying from starvation? Which is the wealth-generating society? Which one has healthier people? Yes, you guessed right.
I’ve been reading one of Obama’s central planners, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, brother of Rahm Emanuel — the Rahm-Bro — whose writings are all over the Journal of the American Medical Association. Dr. Emanuel is a “bioethicist” who runs studies of medical care for the National Institutes of Health. Somehow all his “studies” come to exactly the same conclusions: American medicine stinks. It’s too expensive. And we’re not getting value for all that money.