Sunday, September 6, 2009

The "Case" Against Socialized Medicine

My blog has gone quite political over the past year, and the reason for this is that I've gone quite political over the last year.  The is the inevitable end result of roughly the last decade, starting with my exit from the cult.  After leaving, I found it harder to just simply accept what I'm told.  It becomes exceptionally hard to remain a conservative with this viewpoint.  Most people fall into one of three categories:

  1. I don't want to hear about it.  By far most people fall into this category, and for most of my life I did as well.  What little readership I had before has most likely left for these reasons.  I'm pretty sure I have, not counting myself or the Chinese porn sites who spam my comments, two readers now.  That's okay with me.  If one person finds me through Google and questions long held heretofore unquestioned beliefs as a result, I've made the world a better place.  In other words, I'm not going to shut the fuck up.
  2. My beliefs are right and yours are wrong and I don't really want to hear what you have to say and I'll shout until you give up.  It's difficult to not fall into this category myself, but mostly because when I get into arguments like this, I've actually spent a little time looking into facts myself rather than just regurgitating Rush Limbaugh.  Even that's not fair, Rush proves he's "right" by belittling his opponents.  The logic fallacy in that should be clear even to those who have never studied logic.
  3. I'd like to hear what you have to say and judge it's merit for myself.  This is by far the smallest of the three categories, and, ironically, the group I'm talking to now. 

In the interest of trying to remain a member of group #3, I followed a link from an obviously conservative acquaintance on Facebook recently.  I'd like to offer a rebuttal to this article, and as a result will probably end up quoting the entire thing. The link is here:  It's very entertaining, and is posted by, apparently a political science major.  I've never studied political science, but, well… here we go.

One of the greatest dreams of American liberals is a nationalized health care system similar to the one in Canada. They argue in favor of such a system because they believe health care is a basic "right," and because they believe the current system is flawed beyond repair. As with most problems, they advocate government solutions, not private enterprise solutions. Unfortunately, the government has an abysmal record of correcting problems, and American health care would be no exception.

Most of this article provides no backing for any of it's claims (so neither will I), so I think we can take the statement that the government has an abysmal record with a shaker of salt.  Private enterprise had their shot at this problem, and I think it's pretty clear they blew the pooch on this one.  Advocating private enterprise solutions to this problem would be similar to trying to cure a headache by pounding yourself over the head with a mallet.  The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.  That was Einstein, if I'm not mistaken.

First, let's examine the "right to health care" claim. Obviously, there is no right to health care established in the U.S. Constitution. However, we do have a moral right to health care, some will argue. Unfortunately, those who make this argument do not understand what a "right" is.

Of course there's no right to health care in the U.S. constitution.  It would have read something like "The people shall have the right to government sponsored bloodletting and leeches as needed" at the time.  The Constitution was designed to be flexible, and meet the needs of the people as they changed.  Over 200 years later, they've changed a little.  In a government for the people, of the people and by the people, a "right" is what the people determine it to be.  We call this "Elections".  Medicare, Social Security, Unemployment , Fire and Police service are also not covered by the Constitution.  By this argument, we should disband all of them.

A "right" is the ability and autonomy to perform a sovereign action. In a free society founded on the ideal of liberty, an individual has an absolute ability to perform such an action - so long as it does not infringe upon the rights of another individual. Health care is not speech: In order for you to exercise a theoretical "right" to health care, you must infringe on someone else's rights. If you have a "right" to health care, then it means you must also have the right to coerce doctors into treating you, to coerce drug companies into producing medicine and to coerce other citizens into footing your medical bill. This is Orwellian. "Freedom" for you cannot result in slavery for others. Thus the concept of a "right" to health care is an oxymoron: It involves taking away the rights of other individuals.

Here we start to sound a bit like Glen Beck, full of conspiracies.  We'll ignore the obviously emotionally laden choice terms like "slavery".  We seem to have re-defined what the term "slave" means.  We're also ignoring the fact that true slavery existed in this country under the Constitution until the mid-1800s, when it was amended (under rather considerable protest) to redefine what "rights" are to include people who aren't white.  This is a great example of how our Constitution adapts to changing times.  If anything about his statement were true, then police and firemen could effectively be considered slaves by the same argument.  This is a completely illogical leap, and I just can't buy it.

Surely, though, we can agree that doctors, the pharmaceutical industry and insurance companies earn excessive profits, you say. Well, that depends on what your definition of "excessive" is. Doctors literally hold the lives of their patients in their hands.

So do police officers, but the chief of police doesn't make 9 digits a year.

How much is someone who saves lives everyday worth?

How much is a human life worth?  Are the 250 million Americans who have health coverage somehow more valuable than the 50 million who don't?  Oh, and Police save lives every day too.

The same is true of pharmaceutical companies. While it has become fashionable to condemn their profits, the fact is that these profits fund medical research, which leads to more medicines being produced, and, consequently, more lives saved. Insurance companies spread the cost of health care among many people who might not otherwise be able to afford it, and thus make health care readily available for many.

Pharmaceutical companies do make excessive profits, and the new medicines being produced seem to consist largely of Viagra and similar products.  That's because that's where consumer demand is.  The cost will be spread among many in a government plan as well, making health care readily available for all.  I would hate to be the guy who has to choose who isn't included in the "many" group. 

While on the topic of profits, we should examine them. The word "profit" is considered to be a dirty word by many on the political left, but why? What makes a profit bad? Nothing.

Normally I would disagree that liberals consider profit a dirty word, and I would agree that there is nothing wrong with making profit, but when denying care to citizens with or without coverage increases profits, then they are profiting off of death and disease.  That would make profit bad. 

On the contrary, profits are very positive. When you come to class in the morning, there is a good chance you either drive a car or ride a bus. Do you think the bus driver and the workers who built your car or the bus did so that you could get to school on time? Of course not, they did because they wanted to make money. Yet their pursuit of a profit benefited them as well as you.

Comparing bus drivers to insurance company executives is just a little skewed.  I don't the the guy who built my car got paid 100 million in compensation last year (maybe the guy who owns the company did though).  The rhetoric usually throws the word "socialist" around, playing off the fact that most Americans don't know the difference between the words "socialist" and "communist".  They hear "socialist" and all they see the hammer and sickle.  The truth is that socialism is not the inverse of democracy, it's the inverse of capitalism (and even that's not entirely accurate). And neither pure capitalism nor pure socialism is a good thing, that's one of the things America tends to do well, maintaining a balance between capitalism and socialism.  However we've made socialism a bad word through years of indoctrination and association with communism (e.g. Cold War, Red Scare, etc etc).  Evil is in the eye of the beholder, and most of the rest of the world views the U.S.A. in the same light we used to view the U.S.S.R.  Some popular socialist programs we already have that you might not realize are socialist are Medicare and Social Security.  Similar arguments were made against these programs before they passed "Socialism, BAD BAD BAD!"  Most politicians these days are smart enough to know that proposing the abolition of these programs would be political suicide. 

Adam Smith once said, "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest." As we have seen, profits and self-interest are not bad things.

Ditto, bad comparison.

Let's pretend, for a moment, that the left gets its way, and the United States adopts a universal health care system. This profit motive will effectively be removed.

Ignoring the fact that Doctors in other industrialized nations with universal health care plans make rather good money, medicine just simply should not be about profit, it should be about saving lives, and this is where America differs from the rest of the industrialized world.  I'm a little apprehensive of the doctor who became a doctor for the money, rather than for the desire to save human life.

Doctors will then be government employees, and, as such, have far less accountability,

I'm yet to see the government employee who has less accountability.

as well as lower pay. Could we still expect the best and brightest to strive to be doctors?

Yes, but the greedy will probably be forced into politics now.

Probably not. More than likely, they will pursue other careers where they can make more money.

It appears we've lumped the best and brightest in with the greedy, and I think that's unfair.  Many pursue careers in teaching and law enforcement despite the abysmal pay.  A few of them still pursue these careers for the wrong reasons, but mostly they are people who are doing what they love.  While I strongly feel that they deserve more pay, I think this fact, along with lack of recognition for societal contributions, filters out a lot of bad eggs.  If somebody decides to not pursue a career in medicine because of the pay, it probably wasn't where they belonged.  They should try being CEO of Halliburton, or perhaps starting a war in Iraq.  There's a lot of money to be made there.

Some love to bemoan the fact that the United States is one of the few industrialized nations without a government health care system.

I looked this one up, and we have some company on this one.  Mostly Africa and the Middle East.  Interestingly enough, Iraq and Afghanistan have universal health care programs paid for by United States war funding!!!, but we don't have one back home.  And "love" seems a highly inappropriate and emotionally laden word to choose there.

Yet they rarely note that the United States produces disproportional amounts of the new, life-saving drugs, largely because of the profits drug companies make. Will we continue to produce these drugs if we abolish the profit motive? Not likely. Chances are, they will not be produced at all, and more people will needlessly suffer and die as a result.

The truth is a disproportional amount of the profits drug companies make go to their executives, not research.  50 million Americans do not have health insurance.  That's roughly one out of every six Americans who cannot afford to see a doctor, and this number has been steadily growing for decades.  What good does it do us to produce the cure for cancer if nobody can afford it?  And we're making some big assumptions here that don't seem to be grounded in fact again.  There's no indication that drug companies will stop producing drugs if we reform health care.

When we examine countries that have embraced socialized medicine, we find long waiting lists, expansive red tape and little concern for the individual. Do you really want to be told which doctor to go to? Do you want to wait years to have necessary medical procedures performed? If so, then socialized medicine is for you.

Conservatives love to throw this one around, but there's no backing data for it.  We're told what doctors we can see now.  We have necessary medical procedures denied now.  We have long waiting lists now.  I suppose if want that sort of thing, then privatized medicine is for you.

But if you believe in individual rights, competent healthcare and sound economic policies, we must get the government out of the doctor's office.

The government isn't in the doctor's office.  The author has completely failed to show what individual rights, competent healthcare, or sound economic policies have to do with "the government in the doctor's office".  Most conservative arguments seem based on inducing fear of change.  They fail to mention that you've already got someone intervening between you and your doctor, and they have a financial interest in finding some way (any way) to deny your claim.  Denying a claim is the equivalent of denying health care, because very few Americans can afford the outrageous charges for even minor operations under the American system.  A recent study showed that different insurance companies were denying between 20-40% of all claims they received (one[Cigna] was 20, another [UHC] was 40).  Does it sound like this is just a problem for the uninsured?  People who are paying their premiums (or being a "Grown Up", as Lynn Jenkins of Kansas recently called a young waitress supporting a two year old) are still being denied care.  People are DYING as a result, and we should, as Americans, each and every one of us, find that shocking and unacceptable. 

We're very fond of talking about how superior we are to the rest of the world (freedom fries, anyone?), and that's very easy to believe as long as we don't actually look at the rest of the world

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