Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Two Birds with One Stone

As opponents of ObamaCare point to the socialized health care systems of Great Britain and Canada to illustrate what awaits Americans if they travel the same path, many citizens of those two nations have rushed to defend their systems. A British libertarian--Sean Gabb--recently jumped into the debate, and his article shows what is wrong with both socialized medicine and libertarianism. (HT: Barry Klein)

Gabb readily acknowledges that the British National Health Service (NHS) is founded on compulsion and is unjust:
It is as much an act of theft as if I were to be robbed in the street. The whole present system, therefore, is illegitimate. If it were, as we are continually assured, the “envy of the world”, my opinion would not alter. It is in itself unjust. I resent its existence in my country. I join with Mr. Hannan [a British politician touring America to oppose ObamaCare] in warning the Americans not to accept it for themselves.

But the fact that the NHS is unjust and illegitimate is only a part of the issue according to Gabb. He finds it necessary to point out that America's health care system is heavily regulated and forty million Americans do not have health insurance. Americans, he implies, have no place to demean the NHS:
This should not be taken as a defence of the NHS. I am simply pointing out that it is no worse on balance than the American system. They are differently organised and differently funded. Each has specific advantages and disadvantages.

To Gabb, there is no difference between nationalized health care and a system with some elements of freedom--they are just "differently organized". There are, he tells us, advantages to a socialized system:
If I contrast what I am told about the American system with what I know from personal experience about the British, the NHS is not really that bad. In December 2007, my wife needed an emergency caesarean. This was performed by the NHS. At all times, we were kept informed of our options and our legal rights. I was allowed to stand beside my wife in the operating theatre. I was then allowed to sit with my wife and daughter until gone midnight... While there were visiting hours, I was allowed to come and go as I pleased. The quality of treatment was first class. Apart from the flowers and chocolates and bottles of wine that I chose to lavish on the medical staff when we left, there was no final bill for any of this. About ten years ago, the father of my best friend died of cancer. There may be more effective cancer treatments than the medical establishment prefers to see provided. But within the terms set by the medical establishment, he had excellent treatment. When all else had failed, he was allowed to die in peace under a broad umbrella of opiates. Another of my friends was diagnosed with prostate cancer about seven years ago... He remains well and has no complaints about the NHS.
According to Gabb, some people do receive decent health care in Britain for "free". So? That doesn't change the nature of the NHS or the fact that British doctors are slaves of the state. That some individuals receive good health care is completely irrelevant. And it certainly isn't free--the cost is the freedom and lives of doctors and patients. Gabb is a typical libertarian--despite his calls for a free market, he is essentially a statist. He believes that government control of health care has "advantages".

It is no surprise then, when Gabb attacks property rights:
I believe that all drug patent laws should be repealed. These do nothing to encourage innovation, but are simply a means by which well-connected drug companies extract huge rents from the rest of us.

This is both morally evil and economically illiterate. A drug company has a moral right to any products it develops. If it has no protection from competitors stealing its products, what possible motivation would it have for investing millions of dollars in the research and development of new drugs? Patent laws, by protecting property rights, are precisely what do encourage innovation. But Gabb--like libertarians in general--wants to be "free" to engage in any whim. He wants no restrictions, no standards, and no principles to stand in his way.

Gabb believes that any restriction on one's actions is an act of force. If patent laws prohibit a company from making a product that it did not invent, that is an act of force. The rights of drug companies--who invest millions of dollars and years of research to develop and test their products--should be discarded, according to Gabb.

If the rights of drug makers can be discarded so easily, the rights of all citizens will not be far behind. Anyone who can find any type of "advantage" in a system that enslaves doctors is not a friend of liberty. Any claims to the contrary are just empty words.

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