One of the really frustrating things about arguing with right-wing true believers is that they have a security blanket, and they cling to it. It’s the market. The magical market will fix everything. Capitalist fundamentalists are willing to ignore all manner of actual historical and economic evidence in order to assert that market forces are the best solution to every problem. This phenomenon is quite evident in the health care debate. Our system costs more, is less efficient, is more riddled with pointless bureaucracy, and covers far, far fewer people than the various systems employed by most other industrialized nations. Nevertheless, conservatives (American ones, anyway) cling to their security blanket. The market is always the answer – evidence be damned. Health care, their argument goes, is just another commodity, so the market will save the day. (In my view, a lap top computer is a commodity; access to health care should be a human right).
Paul Krugman’s recent post “Health care is not a bowl of cherries” is brief but makes an important point: the health care debate is bogus. There are many parties involved who are honestly trying to figure out how to improve the American health care system. Many on the right, however, are contributing nothing of value, and only making the process more difficult. Because they insist, with something that is quite close to religious zeal, that the market will always fix everything. Krugman responds, in particular, to people like Greg Mankiw and George Will. Here’s an excerpt from Will’s column, illustrating his childish attachment to market fundamentalism:
As market enthusiasts, conservatives should stop warning that the president’s reforms will result in health-care “rationing.” Every product, from a jelly doughnut to a jumbo jet, is rationed — by price or by politics. The conservative’s task is to explain why price is preferable. The answer is that prices produce a rational allocation of scarce resources.
Krugman’s response is spot-on (and I can identify with his palpable frustration):
Um, economists have known for 45 years — ever since Kenneth Arrow’s seminal paper — that the standard competitive market model just doesn’t work for health care: adverse selection and moral hazard are so central to the enterprise that nobody, nobody expects free-market principles to be enough. To act all wide-eyed and innocent about these problems at this late date is either remarkably ignorant or simply disingenuous.
I guess it doesn’t matter what economists know, or what evidence suggests. Conservatives will cling to their security blanket. It makes them feel good.