Hard America, Soft America, and a Socialist

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Hard America, Soft America, and a Socialist

by Ralph Shnelvar, November 30, 2005

For the last month or so I have been socializing mostly with people who share my political views. Referendum C and the upcoming battle on eminent domain have left me talking to the faithful.

Oh, sure, I handed out thousands of flyers and made hundreds of get-out-the-vote phone calls, but those were fleeting interactions.

Of more substance and consequence than those fleeting interactions, I was invited by a well-known and generous freedom activist to attend this last Founder's Night dinner hosted by the Independence Institute, where I talked and listened to more of the faithful.

The keynote speaker was Michael Barone, author of Hard America, Soft America. If you haven't read it, you should. It's a terrific book.

But if you are like me and you are short on time when comes to reading terrific books, perhaps I can take a passage from the book which gets to the essence of Barone's message.

On page 56 Barone writes, "We tried to provide more for the poor and produced more poor. We tried to remove the barriers to escape from poverty, and inadvertently built a trap. The great mass of well-meaning Americans who wanted a Softer response to crime and welfare dependency had in fact increased and perpetuated misery."

All free-marketers understand the above quote in their minds as well as in their guts.

So where does the Socialist in the title of this piece come in? He came into my life on Thanksgiving Day when I had attended a pre-Thanksgiving dinner party (where else?) in Boulder.

I had met the man once before. He had seemed to be so reasonable.

He walked up to me and immediately began bashing Bush administration policies. Well, that doesn't get a rise out of me because I don't like Bush administration policies in a majority of the areas where a president would have an effect: the Patriot Act, the handling of the War in Iraq, his choices for Supreme Court justices, his tax-and-spend policies, and his complete incompetence in handling emergencies.

So we agreed on much. Then he told me that the thing he wanted most was to completely socialize medicine.

It was a punch to my stomach. I almost became visibly ill. How could he say something so stupid? The look on my face must have conveyed how I felt.

It was a very stupid reaction on my part. I will never convince anyone to change their minds when I show such a reaction.

Oh, he tried to convince me that there is plenty of money in this economy to pay for everyone's health. "It's wrong in a rich society to let anyone die just because of a lack of money."

Which gets us back to Michael Barone's point: The more we Soften our society, the worse things become. Oh, certainly, we might be able, as a society, to provide health care for everyone, but the costs would be huge.

My acquaintance did agree that as price goes down that demand goes up. "But if people go to see the doctor before becoming seriously ill then economic output will go up. Don't you see that, Ralph?" No, I don't see that. What I see is that health care will be free and that everyone will run to the doctor when they get a sniffle. Demand would jump enormously and non-market rationing would set in. Resources that could be used elsewhere to provide jobs and investment would not be because those resources would be immediately consumed by those who don't need health care but would get it because, hey, it's free.

Nothing I could say would convince my acquaintance that socialized medicine is bad.

What I should have said had I properly taken Barone's book to heart was, "Yes, I understand your good intentions. But consider that your well-meaning intentions might generate a great deal of misery because the government would probably do a really lousy job in allocating health care because expenses would explode."

And, as Barone might say, "The great mass of well-meaning Americans who want a Softer response to health care will, in fact, increase and perpetuate misery."

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