July 21, 2009 -- It's crazy for a group of mere mortals to try to design 15 percent of the U.S. economy. It's even crazier to do it by August.
Yet that is what some members of Congress presume to do. They intend, as the New York Times puts it, "to reinvent the nation's health care system".
Let that sink in. A handful of people who probably never even ran a small business actually think they can reinvent the health care system.
Politicians and bureaucrats clearly have no idea how complicated markets are. Every day people make countless tradeoffs, in all areas of life, based on subjective value judgments and personal information as they delicately balance their interests, needs and wants. Who is in a better position than they to tailor those choices to best serve their purposes? Yet the politicians believe they can plan the medical market the way you plan a birthday party.
Leave aside how much power the state would have to exercise over us to run the medical system. Suffice it say that if government attempts to control our total medical spending, sooner or later, it will have to control us.
Also leave aside the inevitable huge cost of any such program. The administration estimates $1.5 trillion over 10 years with no increase in the deficit. But no one should take that seriously. When it comes to projecting future costs, these guys may as well be reading chicken entrails. In 1965, hospitalization coverage under Medicare was projected to cost $9 billion by 1990. The actual price tag was $66 billion.
The sober Congressional Budget Office debunked the reformers' cost projections. Trust us, Obama says. "At the end of the day, we'll have significant cost controls," presidential adviser David Axelrod said. Give me a break.
Now focus on the spectacle of that handful of men and women daring to think they can design the medical marketplace. They would empower an even smaller group to determine -- for millions of diverse Americans -- which medical treatments are worthy and at what price.
How do these arrogant, presumptuous politicians believe they can know enough to plan for the rest of us? Who do they think they are? Under cover of helping uninsured people get medical care, they live out their megalomaniacal social-engineering fantasies -- putting our physical and economic health at risk in the process.
Will the American people say "Enough!"?
I fear not, based on the comments on my blog. When I argued last week that medical insurance makes people indifferent to costs, I got comments like: "I guess the 47 million people who don't have health care should just die, right, John?" "You will always be a shill for corporate America."
Like the politicians, most people are oblivious to F.A. Hayek's insight that the critical information needed to run an economy -- or even 15 percent of one -- doesn't exist in any one place where it is accessible to central planners. Instead, it is scattered piecemeal among millions of people. All those people put together are far wiser and better informed than Congress could ever be. Only markets -- private property, free exchange and the price system -- can put this knowledge at the disposal of entrepreneurs and consumers, ensuring the system will serve the people and not just the political class.
This is no less true for medical care than for food, clothing and shelter. It is profit-seeking entrepreneurship that gave us birth control pills, robot limbs, Lasik surgery and so many other good things that make our lives longer and more pain free.
To the extent the politicians ignore this, they are the enemy of our well-being. The belief that they can take care of us is rank superstition.
Who will save us from these despots? What Adam Smith said about the economic planner applies here, too: The politician who tries to design the medical marketplace would "assume an authority which could safely be trusted, not only to no single person, but to no council or senate whatever, and which would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of a man who had folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it."