[ExI] Yet another health care debate

Damien Sullivan phoenix at ugcs.caltech.edu
Sun Sep 21 20:01:18 UTC 2008

On Sun, Sep 21, 2008 at 12:19:28PM -0700, Lee Corbin wrote:

> Can you perhaps give me a hint of your thought on the following
> questions. Why not have the government pay for all food? Isn't
> food just as important (or perhaps vastly more important) than
> medical care?  How about transportation, or perhaps electrical

Socialized food production has been tried, and failed horribly.
Socialized medical production has been tried, and makes its citizens
happy.  Empirically there is some difference, even if your theory can't
account for it yet.

Socialized food provision faces a major problem: there are lots of food
tastes, so one would either be providing one-size-fits all pablum, not
making people happy or healthy, or in effect giving people money with
which to buy food, which at high levels runs into "disincentive to work"
problems.  At low levels, well, actually you'll find that providing
staple food to those in need has been a common function of government,
dating from the first Sumerian granaries.  (And for that matter,
canals.)  Mass famines in India stopped cold after independence.  The US
has food stamps.  So there's a pattern of socialized provision for
not-starving, but people on their own for luxuries.  Seems to work.

Also, non-perishable food is somewhat fungible, so you might worry about
poeple taking more than their share and exporting it for cash, though
just giving people cash wouldn't face tha tproblem.

Socialized medicine provision does not face the basic problem: given a
medical problem, there's a limited range of scientifically supported
best current solutions.  And care is not fungible, or we already have
gatekeepers over the fungible stuff like drugs.  So we can identify
specific needs and fix them, without facing problems of diversity or
bleeding resources out of the system.  And most people don't get sick
often, so providing doctos doesn't give disincentives to work the way
that providing food and housing might, and in fact making sure people
are healthy keeps them (and their co-workers) producitive.

Non-fungible, limited demand, targettable -- all significant differences
from food.  Even bigger differences with electrical power, which is
extremely fungible and subjected to unbounded demand.

Transportation, well, this often is subsidized, or even provided free
via buses in local areas.  Make it easier to move around and people
will, but people won't be shuffling around unboundedly for the hell of
it, so it's at least conceivable to build enough free capacity, trading
cost and redundancy for convenience.  Though there never seem to be
quite enough space for cars.

> Perhaps to you it's a question of price?  That is, were food to
> be as unpredictable and expensive as medical care, then I'd
> imagine you'd want to socialize that too? One objection that

As mentioned, the unpredictable side of food supply does often attract
"socialism", if only so that your workers and potential soldiers don't
starve due to a bad harvest.  This can be thought of as "insurance" or
"risk management", run by the state.

> In the U.S. we have before us constantly the example of the postal
> service. The postal service by law enjoys a monopoly, for the 
> simple reason that it is inefficient and would be put out of business
> by a free-market. Likewise, those aspects of medical care that

The postal service, by law, provides 1st class mail delivery at the same
low price to everywhere in the country, even frigging backwoods cabins.
A *free market* system would provide cheap mail service in NYC or other
cities, say, and between them, and really expensive service to Montana.
So yeah, legal monopoly, for the sake of integrating and serving
rural areas.

> are *not* regulated, such as cosmetic surgery, constantly show
> vast improvement over time. (I'm sure I hardly need explain to you

...are you claiming the regulated aspects haven't been showing vast

-xx- Damien X-) 

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