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The New York Times discovers economics. Sort of.

June 18, 2009

It’s happening anyway, see, so we should just let the government do it. That’s my pithy summary of David Leonhardt’s article in yesterday’s New York Times.

I still don’t know Leonhardt from Adam, but this is the second time I’m going to point out that he’s wrong, and why.

First, though, I’ll point out why he’s right. Leonhardt’s subject this time is rationing. In the economic sense, first, and then as it applies to health care. He gets to be wrong at that point, but…

…well, let’s let him tell it, shall we?

Wait, are you talking about rationing medical care? Access to medical care is a fundamental right. And rationing sounds like something out of the Soviet Union. Or at least Canada.

Note: I just wrote about the “health care is a right” thing. Read that here. The gist: if it’s a right, it’s a right that can only be exercised if someone else is willing – or forced – to supply the service.

Back to Leonhardt:

Today, I want to try to explain why the case against rationing isn’t really a substantive argument. It’s a clever set of buzzwords that tries to hide the fact that societies must make choices.

In truth, rationing is an inescapable part of economic life. It is the process of allocating scarce resources.

To this point, he’s absolutely right. Resources are scarce, which is to say of limited quantity. There are only so many pork chops on the market at any given time. At a given price, everyone who wants a pork chop (at that price) will get one. Those who don’t, won’t.

Rationing is the term used to describe the method by which resources are distributed. There may be a better illustration of this, but Stacy McCain’s favorite, “I, Pencil,” is pretty good.

Anyway, when we Righties complain that nationalized health care will lead to “rationing,” we might as well be complaining that Autumn will lead to Winter. In an economic sense, rationing is happening already. Always has been, and always will be.

The real argument in health care isn’t whether there will be rationing, but how that rationing will be done. I’d prefer more of an “I, Pencil” approach. Nationalized medicine proponents like Leonhardt prefer to substitute nests of government cubicles infested with a few thousand white-collar workers.

Leonhardt makes a number of eye-rolling statements over the next twenty paragraphs or so – he clearly has some notion that the economy is an order-from-chaos creature: like an ecosystem or global weather pattern. But he clings to the idea that if we pull this string here, that will move over there, when we really have no idea what that string is connected to, much less what other strings it might intersect along the way.

He thinks substituting the decision-making of a relatively few human beings for the natural regulation of the price system will work just fine, thanks, and never mind those three-hour lines at the shoe store the old USSR used to have.

I’m getting kinda verbose. I’ll skip to the end:

…all the noise about rationing is not really a courageous stand against less medical care. It’s a utopian stand against better medical care.

If placing the government in charge of rationing goods – in the everyday sense or the economic sense – will produce better medical care, then why did actual socialist countries – places where the government was in charge of rationing all goods – not have higher standards of living than the West?

And one more thing. Regarding G.I.Normous systems, like the ecosystem: do you notice how liberal/progressives can’t stand the thought of anything that might make the slightest tiny change in the ecosystem?

No, don’t drill! You might inconvenience a caribou! Don’t build there! There’s a…oh, hell, I don’t know, a yellow-toothed crusty lizard, or something. If you tap that underground well, the water level in this lake over here might drop an inch, which’ll kill these ferns, which’ll deny these bugs a home, which’ll hurt these birds which…

You get the picture.

When it comes to another enormous system containing millions-if-not-billions of inputs, though – the economy – they’re all for mucking around with this, that, whatever. Cut those trees! Drain that swamp!

UPDATE Linked by Mike at Letters in Bottles, who adds his own thoughts.

  1. June 18, 2009 11:59 pm

    Nicely done.

  2. June 19, 2009 10:24 am


    Your take on this please:

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