Endowed by my Creator with the Right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, and the Absence of Eczema, at no cost to myself...

The other day I was practicing negative capability, flipping back and forth between Diane Rehm and Rush Limbaugh, when I heard somebody on Rehm's show say that, in the old days, before health insurance was the norm, people just bought their medicines -- and paid for their extended stays and surgeries. And these latter were the problem. So some genius crunched some numbers. He discovered that people spend more annually on cosmetics than they do on healthcare, but that when spending on cosmetics, they spread their spending out evenly across long periods of time. With emergency surgeries, however, consumers had to spend a huge overwhelming chunk all at once. This is the guy who "invented" insurance: he figured that if he could get people to cough up 50 cents a month, he could cover them all when the shit hit the fan.

Fastforward to 2009, tonight. I go into Wal-Mart to pick up my prescription. I have eczema. It's quite irritating, and although I could live without the medicine, I wouldn't really want to. It's definitely worth the $7.50 I paid for it to me. But guess what it retails for? $143.00. It's a 4 oz. tube of ointment. What would happen if we stopped insuring things like skin-care? Would I be faced with the decision between no medicine and paying $143.00/mo. for this ointment?

I don't know the answer to this. There have been creams and ointments since 1900 that were more or less as effective as what I'm using now. The new stuff probably tests marginally better in a lab, but the testers are probably being paid by the corporation to get the results right. The guy on the radio suggested that a big part of the problem is that insurance has been conventionally "employer-based" for a long time, which has (inefficiently) separated consumers from the price of the consumed goods. I know that my laissez-faire Austrian economists would say (convincingly, in my opinion) that prices as absurd as that could never find their way into a system that was unregulated. They would say that regulation creates the conditions that make such absurdities possible.

This all seems interesting to me. I'm listening. It seems incredibly strange to me that a person might say that I have a right, by virtue of being born American, to as many $143.00 tubes of skin cream as I need -- that I should never have to pay for it -- that the government (i.e., other taxpayers) should pay for my medicines, and I for theirs.


Kevin said...

Nice closing thought about rights. The slide from the feeling 'It's not right that...' to the statement 'X has a right for that not to happen to him' leads directly to 'Y does NOT have the right not to finance/insure X'... Something bad happening to X then becomes the 'reason' for taking Y's rights in the classical sense. The thing to resist is the first move from what is Right (as in 'Good') to what political rights are.

I like the analogy you suggest regarding your choice of ointment and economic calculation. I.e. suppose that no one person's body ever registered the ointment's physical effects alone; rather, under some strange physical scheme of redistribution, those effects were redistributed to other bodies unknown to you. How would YOU know whether to take it? How would you know what it was worth, even TO YOU? The very data of science would be helpless to navigate such a redistributionist reality.

Likewise with the dollar-price of the ointment. The cost is distributed amongst thousands of strangers, each of whom is ignorant of the true cost (analog, the true effect) of choosing the ointment. And of course, the less the chooser must answer for the effect of his decision, the less he 'see's what the effect really is, and the more impossible it is for him to make an economically rational choice--and ALL choices are economic--i.e. are based on calculating benefits and costs.
So compassionate redistribution leads to wholesale epistemic disaster in the economy that accepts it--and this is followed naturally by disasters of the more obviously economic kind. Somehow, sadly, to insure THE WRONG WAY against suffering ensures it. A bit depressing, really.

I see now what I'm rambling on about, prompted by the post, is the (im)possibility of reasonable action where economic redistribution is in play--getting back, I think, to your months-long worry about truth, prices, and the nature of money...

Casey said...

"So compassionate redistribution leads to wholesale epistemic disaster in the economy that accepts it..."

,you said -- and I wish you could walk around with me for a day and reassure me, after listening to my colleagues and friends who do not share this worry/fear, that our analysis is not just the sound of an empowered-class's justification for its own exclusionary policies.

Because some days I feel like I have all the "Reason" on my side, but that those favoring a public option make me feel bad inside by implying that I'm, to borrow the words of Paula Abdul, a cold-hearted snake.

Kevin said...

Yes--same here Casey. The dreaded 'Paula Abdul Argument'. :) But as it turns out, moral condescension is an irritation, not an argument--and I've as yet had zero luck finding the basis for their condescension. They, for their part, constantly promise to reveal it to me, but never do. By what right do they look down on you this way?

Moral highground? On what basis? Their generosity is based on indenturing those too young to vote, and coercing other voters via threat of ruin financial, and, in the last resort, physical. Loading down children with obligations they are too weak to resist, while threatening others with violence (via law) so that they can impose their moral will upon them--playing the part of a mugger who tithes-- is not a stance before which I feel any moral shame.

Don't get me wrong. I know these people, and most are not would-be Kaisers. They (mostly) mean well. But the right response to these is: You mean well, yes. But so did the Medieval 'barbers' who drilled holes in the epileptic child's skull to 'let the demons out'.

How is telling someone not to implement policy that will (by decimating American R&D) lead to the pointless death and suffering of thousands around the world (I am thinking of health policy) evidence of a lack of compassion? How is reminding them the financial crash was precipitated by their compassionate desire to make sure low income people had housing at non-market rates somehow indicate my indifference to the poor's suffering--a suffering now magnified by their compassion's sheer carelessness--as if they were so interested in their own compassion that this moral vision of themselves blinded them to what would actually help the poor?

I don't find telling that Mediaeval 'barber' "Stop drilling" to be 'cold-hearted'. At any rate, I feel absolutely no moral inferiority in the presence of such barbers--however many of them there are--however often they look at me, shake their heads at my cold heart, and fire up their drills.

fenhopper said...

"Nor is there any reason why the state should not assist the individuals in providing for those common hazards of life against which, because of their uncertainty, few individuals can make adequate provision. Where, as in the case of sickness and accident, neither the desire to avoid such calamities nor the efforts to overcome their consequences are as a rule weakened by the provision of assistance - where, in short, we deal with genuinely insurable risks - the case for the state's helping to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance is very strong... Wherever communal action can mitigate disasters against which the individual can neither attempt to guard himself nor make the provision for the consequences, such communal action should undoubtedly be taken,"

- Friedrich Hayek, The Road To Serfdom (Chapter 9).

Casey said...

That stuff's too difficult, fenhopper. Plus, it's outdated and ideological. But Glenn Beck told me...

Hayek was a commie.