It’s not uncommon to hear people declare health care a fundamental human right. At least two candidates for U.S. President, Sanders and Warren, would create the obligation for us all to provide health care for everyone through “Medicare for all.” The most common response is to ask how we would pay the tremendous price tag of such a plan. But, while that is a very good question, there is a fundamental moral issue at stake.
Every good and service must be produced by someone. Even with automated production, in some way a human hand is integral to creating all we consume. That most definitely includes health care. Therefore, to claim a fundamental human right to anything that must be produced by someone else, especially if it is to be had for free, is to claim a right to another human’s labor. There is a word for this. It’s “slavery.”
Scoffing at this fact is easy. After all, doctors in nations that provide free health care to all are paid for their services. They hardly look like slaves. But a gilded cage does not change the moral calculus. Nor does the fact that no one outside of convicted criminals in these nations is in chains. Mutual enslavement disperses the terrible costs of being enslaved so that hardly anyone notices it. This does not make enslavement by taxation moral, much less workable.
Suppose there were a single doctor in a small, isolated town where all agreed they all have a right to health care. The doctor would be obligated to treat everyone free of charge. After all, as a fundamental right, there is no justification for denying or charging someone for health care. Before long, the doctor would go bankrupt and could not treat anyone for lack of supplies. So, the townspeople tax themselves to pay the doctor according to prices that he sets. At first, he’s likely to charge what he has in the past.
Soon, the doctor is over-worked, so he raises his prices and discovers he can do so almost with impunity. This affords him the best house in town, wonderful facilities to work in, and assistants to do much of the work. Then the townspeople realize they’re being impoverished while the doctor becomes fabulously wealthy. So they limit the doctor’s prices and tell him what hours he will work and kinds of treatments he can employ. At this point, the doctor is practically enslaved again, along with everybody in town who must pay for everybody else’s health care.
The way this story ends does not describe the United States, but it describes other countries. Canadians come to the United States all the time for medical procedures they cannot obtain in a timely manner in Canada. Some services are very scarce in other countries, even developed ones like Great Britain where waiting lines for services are so long that their Soviet-style goals for shortening them are being scaled back. The bulk of medical innovations flow from the United States where five-year survival rates for most cancer patients is highest in the world. Were Americans to mutually enslave themselves in health care as others have done, innovation in medicine would become far less common.
If health care were like national defense and unlikely provided privately, it would be different. Some necessary things only government can effectively accomplish, though we differ on how much to tax ourselves for them. Health care is nothing like national defense and more available through private markets than when provided by government.
Obviously, America’s health care system, especially the way we pay for it, has problems. The middle of the story above, where the doctor is becoming wealthy, does describe the U.S. today. We are only beginning to recognize that the health care sector, at nearly 20 percent of GDP, is becoming fabulously wealthy as we have effectively attempted to make health care a right. Fortunately, we have not yet turned to dictatorially rationing health services, or strictly regulating prices.
We still have a choice. We can move toward a system whereby health care is provided cooperatively, voluntarily, and competitively in peaceful markets through free enterprise, which includes voluntary charity. Or, we can rely on a dictatorial system of rationing and price regulation made necessary from the morally dubious and socialist utopian act of declaring health care a right.
A billion people were lifted from poverty in twenty-five years as nations like India and China shifted their policies toward free enterprise. This could have been accomplished much sooner but for socialist utopian policies, pursued for decades, based on the notion that humans have a right to what others produce.
The only way to fulfill the utopian dream of making health care a right is by force, through taxation, regulation, and mandates, but the surest way to create hell on earth is to try and create heaven on earth by force. If this is the route we choose in the United States, the result will be anything but a health care heaven.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of 1889 Institute.