August 11, 2009

MEGAN MCARDLE: RATIONING BY ANY OTHER NAME:

Robert Wright notes that “we already ration health care; we just let the market do the rationing.” This is a true point made by the proponents of health care reform. But I’m not sure why it’s supposed to be so interesting. You could make this statement about any good:

“We already ration food; we just let the market do the rationing.”
“We already ration gasoline; we just let the market do the rationing.”
“We already ration cigarettes; we just let the market do the rationing.”

And indeed, this was an argument that was made in favor of socialism. (No, okay, I’m not calling you socialists!) And yet, most of us realize that there are huge differences between price rationing and government rationing, and that the latter is usually much worse for everyone. This is one of the things that most puzzles me about the health care debate: statements that would strike almost anyone as stupid in the context of any other good suddenly become dazzling insights when they’re applied to hip replacements and otitis media.

And note her point on diffusion of responsibility via rules.

UPDATE: Also, the market doesn’t deny you a hip replacement or a pacemaker because someone in government thinks your political views are “un-American.” Given the cronyism and thuggery we’ve seen with the bailouts, etc., I’m not confident this would hold true under a government health program. And I’m absolutely certain there would be a special track for insiders and favorites.