Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Comparing Apples with Hamburgers

One of my least favourite right wing canards goes like this:

"Markets are great. Look at the market for hamburgers. Markets distribute hamburgers in New Zealand and no one goes without. It's only when the government gets involved - like in health care and education that provision starts to lack."

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Just briefly here's what's wrong with the 'Great Health Burger Comparison' (this ain't rocket science):

1. Burgers are a heck of a lot cheaper and simpler to produce than medical treatments - for this reason alone the comparison is nonsense. There may be limitations to the provision of health care in New Zealand at present, but they are nothing like the number of people who would miss out if we fully marketised health care.
2. Markets may, when functioning well, provide efficient distribution, but they never guarantee provision. This means that if New Zealanders shy away from the thought of many of their compatriots (and probably themselves) going without health care - then there is going to have to be some sort of state involvement.
and 3. minimal state involvement - as exists in the States - proves to be less efficient than state involvement social democracy style.

In short, providing health care is much more difficult than providing 'universal burger coverage'. Because it's more difficult and because, as New Zealanders, we like the universal aspect of universal coverage, we get the state involved. What results is not perfect, but this doesn't reflect so much as the limitations of the state vis a vis the market but more the difficulty of keeping a nation healthy.

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