21 August 2009

Wonderful Socialism

Carlton Meyer over at The Bankrupt Empire is an excellent chronicler of the waste and inefficiencies of the biggest and most destructive bureaucracy out there - the United States military. Therefore upon gazing my eyes on the title of his post from a week ago the Wonderful Socialized American Medicine I expected it to be tongue in cheek, but it turns out that Meyer is this time actually taking the side of a bureaucracy, the Veterans Administration, calling its health care wonderful and going so far as to complain that socialism has been demonised when actually not all socialism is bad showcasing the VA health care as an example of the good variety of socialism. Basing the view on his personal experience of having received quality care from them.

There is a fallacy right there. VA health care is not a socialist programme. Socialists programmes are egalitarian and universal meaning that the costs are borne by everyone but the benefits are also received by everyone. On the contrary the VA only provides health care for disabled and low-income veterans. It is a programme whose costs are borne by everyone but the benefits are received by only a chosen class of people. As such it is an example of modern feudalism rather than of socialism. It is a scheme were the warrior caste is guaranteed quality health care and the general populace foots the bill whether it likes it or not.

This incidentally is also the secret of the programme`s apparent success (at least if we deem Meyer`s own experience to be more typical than the experience of the veterans from Walter Reed). It has ample funds but only a limited number people to treat. This is not unusual. Soviet Union had a separate chain of hospitals that provided first rate health care – to officers of the KGB. The level of the socialist, universal health care provided to the general populace on the other hand was poor so that becoming life expectancy actually decreasing slightly in the 1970s and 80s. Meyer seems to realise this intuitively since despite saying that every American deserves „free health care" he nowhere suggests that the VA model be adopted for everyone, instead the farthest he goes is to suggest a further of 3 million people, the military retirees and their spouses, be taken under its wing.

Expanding on the not-all-socialism-is-bad theme he goes on to mention that ordinary Swedes apparently have a positive view of their universal socialist medicine. Personally I make no claim to know what the Swedish public opinion is in regards to their health care system, it certainly sounds plausible that it would be positive. That however is completely irrelevant. The Swedes may be satisfied with the services provided by their hospitals but being tax plunder funded they have no way of knowing how much money is being expropriation from them in exchange for it. They have no way of knowing if they are getting their money`s worth and thus are in no position to make an actual cost-benefit analysis.

They are in a similar position to a sclerotic investor who one day remembers he still has 100 shares of ACME company. He sells them and with the proceeds buys a new automobile. Naturally he is happy about his brand new car. But what if being a sclerotic he can for the life of him not remember how much he originally paid for the shares for? He can be satisfied with the new car all he wants to be but he has no way of knowing if buying and holding those shares was actually good business.

For a more real-life example Lets take for example the Soviet Union's sports programme. To be sure nobody ever polled the Soviet citizens on the issue but It is highly unlikely that Soviet public opinion viewed it negatively. It was a programme that grew countless word class athletes that brought home medals and prestige and great amounts of satisfaction for the viewing public and the sports enthusiasts. But the trick was the public had no way of knowing how much exactly it was paying for these achievements. No way of knowing if it was getting its money worth. Absolutely, most Soviets were very pleased with their country dominating the gold medals counts at the Olympics, but was any Soviet citizen ever asked if he preferred Soviet athletes won a dozen more medals or if he preferred instead he (and everyone else) be given a set of winter tires, a case of bananas, or a pair of jeans? And what would be the answer? Can anyone claim a large proportion of people would not prefer to get some other benefits for their money?

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