47. Voodoo Medicine

Once upon a time, there was a tribe of well-meaning folks called the Nacirema. The Nacirema were, on the whole, a likable bunch, despite their enthusiasm for professional wrestling, reality television, and fatty foods, and even though some were lousy drivers who turned into annoying jerks the second they got behind their steering wheels. Anyway, it occurred to them that it wasn't right that some of their tribe didn't have the services of the local witch doctor, so they got together to see how they could solve the problem.

The witch doctor said it was a simple matter of receiving payment: One chicken, one weasel, or one half hour in the Love Hut would get you one visit with the doctor. Those were the options, and those options had worked for a thousand years. But some of the tribe were starting to grumble that they had a right to the witch doctor's services. In their view, it was awfully selfish of him to charge money when people were SICK. After all, didn't he CARE? Didn't he want to HELP people?

The witch doctor argued that he was a laborer just like all the other laborers in the village. They received payment for their work, so why shouldn't he? But he told the villagers he would institute a system of credit: One hour of hitting yourself on the head with a hammer, combined with a complicated set of bureaucratic forms printed on tree bark, would give you access to the witch doctor ...  IF the bureaucracy's accountants approved the paperwork.

Well, pretty soon all the villagers were spending all day hitting themselves in the face with hammers. And no matter how many bark forms they filled out and signed, somehow they just ended up doing more face-hitting and less doctor-seeing. When the witch doctor finally got tired of this game, he retired to the Love Hut, never to be seen again. But the Nacirema tell stories to this very day that if you just hit yourself in the face with a hammer hard enough and for long enough, eventually you'll get to see a doctor.

"It is amazing that people who think we cannot afford to pay for doctors, hospitals, and medication somehow think that we can afford to pay for doctors, hospitals, medication and a government bureaucracy to administer it."
— Thomas Sowell

This story makes little sense, much like all the news about Obamacare, Trump Care, repealing and replacing, ad nauseam. That's because all this talk of planning our way out of a complicated failure of a socialized-medicine system ignores the fact that you can't dig your way out of a ditch. We've already screwed up the problem to hell and back. Screwing it up further won't make it better. 

F.A. Hayek called it the "fatal conceit" -- the idea that central planners always believe they can centrally plan and direct an industry, and that the results will outperform the free market. No matter how many times such thinking is shown to be wrong, people keep going back to the central-planning well to hit themselves with the same hammer.

Healthcare is only going to get better when we recognize that we can never centrally plan our way out of the problem. Central planning undermines and ultimately destroys the critical information conveyed by a freely functioning price system, and it introduces a host of perverse incentives, to boot. Nothing in this world is free, not even our t-shirts... but our shirts sure feel a lot better than a hammer between the eyes.

If you need us, we'll be in the Love Hut.

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