I want to begin this post by stating that my respect for Peter “he was right” Schiff the economist goes through and well beyond the roof. Schiff may not be a perfect predictor of “what’s to come” but after listening and attempting to understand his commentary for months, I trust he earns his living honestly and through insightful analysis of larger economic trends. In fact, when it comes to Schiff’s advice on most economic issues, I find it sound and worthy. This post then, is an attempt to understand Peter’s value system when he makes a comment such as this:
We would have a more efficient, better health care system if the government was out of it.
What I find curious in a comment like this is the question of what Peter means by “efficient”. Typically, economists think of goods and services in the context of scarcity, demand, and supply. For most goods and services, thinking in these terms makes sense. Production of goods and services requires resources and the goal of a company seeking to maximize profit will be to find the equilibrium between supply and demand. If that spot can be hit dead on, the business is operating ‘efficiently’.
While this free-market scenario is generally desirable, this approach leaves some out in the cold. Let’s say I manufacture Widgets®. In order to maximize the profit on my Widget®, I cannot give it away (with the exception of a promotional endeavor). Generally speaking, I would be crazy to give Widgets® to those who cannot pay enough for me to at least break even. Therefore, consumers with zero or few dollars will not have access to my Widget®.
So let’s substitute the Widget® with the Frisbee®. There is scarcity and not everyone can afford my Frisbee due to the nature of the free market driving my flying disc business. This recreational toy can be had by some but not by all – the market says so. Economically speaking, the win-some/lose-some result is the only possibility when profit is the incentive (and why shouldn’t it be?) to manufacture flying discs.
So how does this reality transfer to something like health care? Well, if Schiff’s “government [is] out of it” (as they arguably should be in regard to flying discs), the result is that health care is left to a competitive system of scarcity to determine how supply will behave in the face of demand. This means health care access is approached in an economically similar way as Frisbees®. Now honestly, though I may feel a little envious, I can get over the fact that my neighbor can afford a Frisbee® and I can’t. The point is, it doesn’t essentially matter (from a caring society’s perspective) if I can afford a Frisbee® or not because, well…it’s a Frisbee®.
So can Peter explain himself here? Am I missing the saving grace in the bigger scheme of things, or is it that he sees access to health care as he sees access to flying discs? Does he not deem it important to differentiate between measures of economic development versus economic growth? Because honestly, he professes like an economic guru (often, he hits nothing but bulls-eyes) but where do his values stack? Is health care just an expensive Frisbee® or can he enlighten us on his views? How can we make the best attempt to care for everyone with “no government involvement”? Or does he think ‘care for everyone’ is idealistic baloney? Does he equate the suffering of watching a neighbor enjoy his Frisbee® with the suffering of an otherwise treatable pain or terminal illness? Is it that somehow the free market will negate the need to recognize the difference between a flying disc and a herniated one?
If you can’t afford the flying disc you’ve always wanted, I couldn’t care less. But if you can’t acquire the health care you need because access to that care is tied to your financial status, my value system tells me something is wrong. So what’s wrong? My value system or something else?