Friday, June 24, 2011

In Every Other Nation on Earth …

I was watching a debate the other night on health care. It was pretty clear from the satisfaction in the delivery from the person supporting the position that “health care is a right” (let’s not blog that for now) that his most salient point (for his argument contained very little of substance outside of the typical arguments from intimidation tossed at folks like me who understand how markets work) was the following: almost every other nation on earth takes it for granted that health care is a right.
Here is a caveat so that you don’t jump down my throat. In a country as wealthy as the United States, it is perfectly conceivable that every single citizen would be able to afford or have purchased on their behalf, a good quality level of health care services. The fact that they cannot, and that even those folks are well insured have to deal with the inefficiencies of our “system” and the fact that health outcomes are not noticeably better (at least from a cold aggregated look at the data) than in other countries is pretty strong evidence that the medical sector is problematic here.
My point for this post is extremely simple. Arguments such as “every other nation on earth does it, so we should do it …” are so intellectually bankrupt that we recognize it as ludicrous when our kids do it, but now we somehow think that is a legitimate argument in serious company as adults? I am sure when you were a kid you told your parents, “but Mom and Dad, Jimmy is allowed to go cliff diving …” they said right back to you, “if Jimmy jumped off of the Brooklyn Bridge, would that mean it’s a good idea?” Now it might be a good idea. And surely there is something to be learned by observing what everyone else is doing. But none of that commits me (or us) to any course of action.  If you buy such a view, then it is just as easy to present an argument like this: the United States is the richest, freest country in the world – and we have a policy of incarcerating nearly 30% of all black males at some point in their lives, so the poorer and less free countries surely have something to learn from this. I’d be laughed off the planet for suggesting it for two reasons. First, it is not clear it is a good idea. Second, even if it was, it’s not clear that the way to accomplish the same goal (whatever it might be) is the same everywhere else as it is here.
Or how about this: lots of new drugs and advanced medical treatments come out of the United States. We have no concept of health care being a right, so if we want lots of new drugs and advanced medical treatments around the world, they should give up this silly idea of health care being a right. The entire idea is just nonsense and it pains me to even write it. Maybe it is just our intellectual class having a fetish with Europe and everything else that is not the United States. I cannot remember the last time I remember reading a Progessive American intellectual arguing that anyone else in any other country had anything to learn from us.
One final amusing point for me is how selective such arguments can be – in my view, if an argument cannot be applied broadly and generally, then it is not a serious point. For example, virtually every other country in the world has far lower corporate income tax rates than prevail in America. Those countries all collect more tax revenues (measured appropriately) than the United States and all of those countries also provide all kinds of things that folks who support “social justice” would want to see done here. So, if we are to be influenced by what everyone else does, will any leading “free health care” proponents also take the position that taxes on corporate income should be reduced or eliminated? It derives from the exact same line of thinking. And if not, what can explain the contradiction?
You know what kind of answer you will get.

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