L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 294, October 24, 2004
"Scare the crap out of the statists!"
Imagine Theres No Healing
Special to TLE
Suppose free home repair was proclaimed a legal right, like "free" [or "universal"] health care and "free" education. Politicians would dive at the chance to promise gullible voters another perennial boondoggle like "free house care." Under such an outrageous scheme the tyrant's dream of total control over individuals might achieve its desired nightmarish reality. Somewhere, an ambitious bureaucrat is crouching under his toadstool, drafting precisely such a despicable bill... I feel the beastly law slouching toward Washington D.C. to be born, its dreaded hour come 'round at last.
Imagine "free" home repairs, courtesy of "the government." Now, most of us know the law of free lunches, but obviously plenty of people believe in "free education" and even "free health care." Perhaps it's helpful to consider the analogy of free house care. First of all, the government would want every home to have a "free" checkup every year or two, and keep extensive (not to mention intrusive) records of all listed occupants, dependents, pets, weapons, electronic devices, canned goods, etc. Private insurance companies would have to link arms with the state, or pack up and leave. Official "home health inspectors" would arrive unannounced, or on short notice at their own capricious convenience, to do thorough spot examinations of our homes. At least the Jehovah's Witnesses and student magazine salesmen are polite, and don't force their way past the door. The new "home health inspectors" would soon discover they need armed backup especially in rural areas so armed backup would swiftly become routine procedure everywhere.
Imagine no more 'Home Depot.' Do it yourself home improvement is apparently a huge market, judging by the success of retailers catering to the handyperson. Currently there is not a shortage of home improvement contractors, although finding one who is competent and reliable can be a chore. People undertake their own home improvement projects for a variety of reasons: For the sake of privacy and security, rather than allowing strangers compromising access to personal living spaces; to make sure a job is done properly or to specifications; and lastly, for economical reasonsit's often cheaper to do work yourself. Many people enjoy the challenge of learning and applying new skills, and take pride in their own handiwork.
The world would be a poorly maintained place without Home Depot and other home improvement retailers, including local hardware and lumber stores. Under a "universal" house care plan administered by the state, all work would have to be done by licensed professionals; the state would crack down on home improvement dissidents by requiring a license (or many licenses) to possess the tools of the trade. All construction materials would have to come from state approved vendors, and the inevitable clamor for price controls would raise demand while reducing supplies, with predictably disastrous results.
"Free house care" will begin to feel distressingly costly when nobody dares fix their own leaky sinks or remodel their closets, and then the predictable debates will kick in. What does "universal house care" entitle people to? If I want a swimming pool in my mansion, or a composting toilet in my greenhouse, do those qualify? Under what circumstances do they qualify? How many bureaucrats does it take to make decisions like those, and how long will it take them? How much money do I have to slip each bureaucrat under the table in order to acquire the permit? Can I carry a concealed screwdriver in public, never mind possessing a nail gun in my home toolbox? Why can't I paint my house 'forest green' like I did in the good old days, if I don't want gray, white, or mustard yellow?
Sadly, the above scenario seems much like what has already happened in the field of medicine. We've lost the "right" to purchase or self-administer most medicines, and many remaining choices are endangered by bureaucratic interferenceeven vitamins are increasingly regulated "for our own good." When does what is good for you start feeling bad for youwhen it's too much or too little, or when you have no free choice left to exercise? Medical choice is one form of exercise most of us need, and government likes to restrict. Bureaucrats nag people about expanding waistlines while discouraging healthy development of mental facilities. The top-heavy managerial style of socialized medicine drives conscientious healers away into other professions. Healing at its best is a cautious, respectful, and compassionate 'hands-on' practice. At its worst, medicine becomes a cold, heavy-handed, mindless and heartless business where genuine healing is bad for business: It's more lucrative to manage disease than heal it. In a captive marketplace, the consumer becomes the consumed, and an ounce of political interest may prevent pounds of cure.
Hard as it may be for well meaning bureaucrats and medical "experts" to believe, many people would like to have the tools to take charge of their own decisions. Many people would do better on their own health improvement than they can under over-regulated health care with the limited tools, research material, and knowledge available to them. Informed choices would cut down on doctor errors and medical mistakesthat would also cut into some doctors' business, but no more so than Home Depot steals work from home improvement contractors now, and it might help other doctors to stay in business. So often one hears how overworked medical professionals areand no wonder, when they're expected to offer all the various services that the amateur and the do it yourselfer might do (and more profitably, more conveniently, more economically) in a vigorously competitive marketplace. A marketplace regulated not by government, but directly by the amplified power of people free to make choices according to their individual interests.
Imagine a truly free market in medicine, with places for the do-it-yourself healer to shop for information, compare available products and therapies, and consult experienced and caring people willing to offer suggestions and instructions. Imagine a "Health Depot:" A vast yet accommodating supply house of tools, supplies, and information on healing. A friendly and helpful environment, where it feels easy to walk in and check outwhere none of the staff will hold you prisoner when you walk in seeking relief from a heroin addiction, severe chronic depression, suicidal feelings, tobacco use, coffee drinking, or whatnot. Imagine a coercion-free clinic where no one can force you to take or not to take medication or counseling, and you are free to choose whatever therapy seems best for you as long as you accept reasonable responsibility and pay any for products and services you freely choose. Just thinkfreedom of choice might come at a price worth paying.
Imagine what a delightful disaster it might be to get government out of medicine and bureaucracy out of health care. These days everything under the sun seems attributable to mental illness; I imagine the urge to care for one's own health will inevitably succumb to that growing category of psychological ailments our kids are likely to be screened for. Naturally, they'll be directed to see their Primary Care Physician right away and promptly receive a costly lifetime prescription to drugs awarded the bureaucratic seal of approval (unpleasant side effects are free, of courseadditional prescriptions needed to counteract them aren't). Physician, heal thyself... patient, you may be on your own or dangerously dependent on physicians who often don't know how to heal themselves.
Once upon a time, a man claimed to be the Son of God and released God from the hands of an established priesthood into the hearts and minds of ordinary people. So may true healing be at all of our fingertips when the priesthood of medicine loses its deathly grip on free minds and precious lives. Health Depot, your market awaits. Amen, say I.
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