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The Good, the Bad, and the Doctor Evils

July 23, 2009

It is ironic how President Obama simultaneously appears to see the world divided into ‘good’ and ‘evil’ and has shown himself to be utterly unable to correctly sort those two categories.

Obama’s ‘good’ list comprises unions, minorities and other conveniently labeled underdogs that Democrats in general like to evoke when they try to present themselves as saints. Obama’s ‘bad’ list is pretty long: Republicans, of course, but also everyone else who allegedly wants to “destroy [his] presidency” (a certain plumber comes to mind); successful businesses, with those in the financial sector being the worst of the worst; then oil companies; insurance companies and pharmaceutical industries following close behind; new on the list: doctors (they take your kid’s tonsils just because they make a lot of money through that). You also have the impression that Israel is on Obama’s bad list.

In which way did Obama err distinguishing between ‘good’ and ‘evil’, you want to know? Three words: Georgia, Iran, Honduras. Three more? Wright, Ayers, ACORN. Want another three? The UAW, Wall Street, Barney Frank.

It is hard to make wise decisions when you serially confound the good guys with the bad ones, particularly so when you try to apply the ‘good’/’evil’ pattern on areas where this makes no sense. Economic contexts, for instance, are always interpreted by Obama as zero-sum battles between innocent fools on the one side and powerful egoists on the other. So it is no surprise that, by Obama’s account, the financial crisis is to be blamed on greedy Wall Street suits who intentionally lured nice, old ladies into housing contracts that financially ruined them. By his handling of GM and Chrysler, you can see that Obama thinks that unions deserve a large piece of cake for free, while their investors deserve the boot (never mind that this includes nice, old ladies).

Accordingly, in Obama’s world, the health care sector is not a market in which people make their choices based on their preferences given their individual conditions, but an arena in which bad guys try to exploit the good guys. So, for instance, health care costs increase because insurance companies, as well as doctors, are evil and greedy. It cannot possibly have anything to do with the fact that, for instance, medical treatment is just darn expensive per se, and that it is increasingly so as methods improve. Or that risk for insurers has increased over the years and that therefore higher premiums are the correct (though lamentable) response. Or that good health, as a commodity, has risen in subjective value in the eyes of American consumers and that, consequently, they’re willing to pay more for health care while they can afford it.

Ultimately, it comes down to this: President Obama has the childlike philosophy that all imperfection in this world could simply disappear if only someone makes it so. “Someone” being the government. Before you tell the French Cowboy that he is one of the strawmen Obama likes to call out for preferring to do “nothing”, let me tell you that, of course, I think that improvements are necessary and possible. But central planning never has been, and never will be, the solution to a chaotic market with imperfect allocation of resources. The French Cowboy may not know who is the best doctor in town for a particular ailment he would like to have treated. So he may end up in the wrong (or less than ideal) hands. The question is: does a centralised planning entity run by Washington bureaucrats know any better? I dare say no.

Take President Obama’s tonsil case from yesterday’s news conference: Monsieur Obama actually said that a doctor might decide to take out your child’s tonsils not because it makes sense from a medical perspective but because it earns him a nice profit. Pretty slanderous statement, if you ask me, but, hey, it’s not unthinkable. (Of course, it may also be that your pharmacist is selling you placebos instead of the real thing because he’s making a killing with the original medication on the black market.)

So, what is Obama going to do against the tonsil-stealing doc? Will he refuse to pay him for the surgery? Then doctors will refrain from legitimate surgeries because they would create financial losses. Will he pay the doctor for a simple, alternative treatment just as much as he would earn from a surgery? Then health care costs will skyrocket even in comparison to energy costs under Obama’s plan. Will Obama send out ‘experts’ (of whom there seems to be no shortage in Washington) to assess the need for the removal of the tonsils and to make the decision instead of the doctor? Why, on average, would such a person make a better judgement on your kid’s health than the doc himself? And wouldn’t that create the same problem in the reverse because a government official would prefer leaving the tonsils where they are because that saves a lot of money? And wouldn’t the institution of government officials who double-check doctor’s decisions cost a lot of money, too? I dare say yes.

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