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« Rima Campaigning in the Foreign Press | Main | Campaign Details Nobody Ever Tells You About »

"Public Good"'s Just Other Words For Nothin' Left to Choose

With apologies to Mr. Kristofferson.

Proponents of a single-payer health care system here in Colorado have taken to referring to health care as a "public good." In theory, this means that everyone is entitled to the service. In practice, it means that choice in the system - from insurance to actual health care, will disappear virtually overnight.

Advocates of Single-Payer compare medical services to police and fire protection. Indeed, as a humane society, we're not simply going to allow people to die in the street, which is why we fund ambulance services to go along with the hook-and-ladder. By analogizing these to a generalized "right" to health care, the single-payers wearing the checkered sportcoats are hoping that you won't notice that the creampuff they're trying to sell you is up on blocks and has no engine.

We have a police force because we have laws, and someone has to enforce them. We have a public fire department in part, because fires have a tendency to spread, and because private companies had have a tendency to have the crassus of manners.

And we still supplement police forces with security services and fire departments with sprinkler systems.

There are issues that could be qualified as public health problems. But these tend to be epidemiological in nature, the sort of thing where, if you get sick, then I and a thousand of my closest friends get sick. Or let's all agree to get our kids vaccinated against the mumps. The obvious power of these arguments is the main reason for mislabeling things like eating, drinking, and smoking as "epidemics," rather than genetics or self-control.

The implications of misclassifying normal health care as a "public good" are a dramatic and inevitable loss of freedom. If the government is responsible for paying for your health care, then it can also ban transfats, ban fast food restaurants (from neighborhood apparently too benighted to take care of themselves), and John Edwards can plausibly claim that citizens should be legally required to get annual physicals.

The food sold at restaurants becomes a "public good." There's no logical reason why the food sold at your local grocery shouldn't be subject to the same scrutiny. We'll just be expected to be grateful when it isn't.

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