When Perry referred to the recent comments of US Presidential hopeful Barak Obama, we had another example in the ensuing comment thread of how people lazily refer to the idea that healthcare should be ‘free’. Of course, unless Obama is a total idiot – and I doubt that – he realises that health care, like roads, clean water, defence or food is not free in any sense at all that matters in a world of scarce resources that have alternate uses (such scarcity and the fact they have alternate uses is a classic element of what economics is). Healthcare is not free – it must be paid for, paid out of the time and trouble of other people. The problem, however, is that a lot of people, not just socialists, think that some things in life ‘ought’ to be free although one often finds they are at a loss to say why. Indeed, if you challenge a person by asking, “Why should health, clean water or defence be free”? they will either change the subject, or go bright red with anger, or fail to understand the question at all.
To attack the idea that certain services and resources should be ‘free’ is not, alas, all that easy in today’s politically dumb climate. However, I think I have a partial solution in how to frame the point. If you ever encounter a person who says that healthcare should be free at the point of use, and it should be a ‘right’, then point out that this means that someone else has a corresponding duty to be a doctor, a nurse, a hospital orderly or an administrator. Unless people can be forced to perform these roles, then all talk of health as something that ought to be free is meaningless. Of course, at this point the socialist will blather on about incentives and so on, but what if no one wants to be a doctor or a nurse, regardless of pay? Does this mean that anyone who shows an inclination to like medicine should, at an early age, be conscripted into a hospital like a draft for the Army?
I ask these rhetorical questions because I think that when we try to frame our arguments, it is sometimes easy to lose sight of the fact that actual flesh and blood human beings are involved in talk about “the right to free health care”. Most people these days oppose the idea of military conscription so it ought to be possible to make the case against medical conscription. If we can point out that medical conscription would be a bad thing, then it would be a step in nailing the nonsense that healthcare is a ‘right’.
Here is a book I highly recommend about the whole noxious doctrine of ‘welfare rights’ and how they erode respect for the original, far more coherent rights doctrine of classical liberalism.