The leading Republican candidate to represent Nevada in the U.S. Senate, Sue Lowden, is getting a lot of press for the ridiculous alternative she's presented to her Democratic opponent's "government-run" healthcare, widely panned as "Chickens for Checkups." But a closer look at her suggestion reveals more than just short-sighted nostalgia and backwardness. Lowden's flap (and her inability to see it as a flap) illustrates the damage done by a blind adherence to supply-side economics.
"Before we all started having health care, in the olden days our grandparents, they would bring a chicken to the doctor. They would say 'I'll paint your house.' They would do, I mean that's the old days of what people would do to get healthcare with their doctors. Doctors are very sympathetic people," Lowden said in a campaign appearance Monday. She later backed up her remarks by insisting that "when you don't have government in between you and your healthcare, you can negotiate."
Lowden is right when she says that doctors are sympathetic people. The true lack of sympathy comes from hospitals and insurance companies. Or the marketplace, which Lowden seems to believe has the power to solve every problem.
What Lowden doesn't seem to get is that large-scale barter doesn't work in a country with ten percent unemployment where nobody actually makes anything anymore. How does a customer service representative barter with a physician?
Well, maybe if your role in society isn't to actually make something, you still might have a product to offer in exchange for medical service. Maybe your doctor needs a new dining room table and you need surgery more than you need a place to lay out your dinner. Unfortunately, the few "durable goods" we do have in this country are designed to be disposable. Turns out IKEA's got nothing on Aetna.
If Lowden ever had to barter for something as critical as healthcare, she'd know that the real bartering comes into play when a person considers his or her job -- if they're lucky enough to have one -- and its worth outside of a paycheck.
The fact is, the absence of affordable healthcare options reinforces high unemployment and lack of innovation. Even if a person had a great idea for a wonderful new product, or had a deep desire to get into boutique chicken farming, they'd have to make a tough decision before leaving Widgets International to pursue their dream.
The question is: "Can I afford to give up my health insurance for a couple years until my business becomes profitable enough for me to afford to buy into the expensive individual insurance market?"
The question is not: "How much healthcare can I get for this chicken?"
Lowden's harebrained scheme is likely a product of overconfidence in the "magic of the marketplace," as President Reagan called it (I said "likely" because there's always the possibility that Lowden is just insane). The way to fix any problem, according to such people, is to get the government's meddling fingers out and let supply and demand take over because, well, it's magical.
The most ridiculous thing about such people is that they're either in politics or hoping to be. Anyone who applies to fix a problem by insisting that said problem will be magically solved by not doing anything about it doesn't deserve the job.
But more than that, they don't understand the complex world we live in and are unable to make the transition from the "olden days" that Lowden referenced in her unfortunate remarks, to today's realities. When you have markets that ordinary people are participating in, but that are too complex for an outsider to understand, you need a non-biased entity to referee such transactions.
One example of this is screwy financial schemes like the derivatives market. When Goldman Sachs can promote a product as "good" that it is actively betting against and ensuring will fail, that is unfair. Someone needs to step in to say so, and that someone must be bigger than a bank or a person. That entity must be a non-commercial one.
Same goes for the healthcare industry. When you have huge insurance companies all spending millions just to figure out how they can avoid covering their customers, you need the government to step in and stand up for consumers.
Just remember that the same people who are trying to convince you that the government can't do anything right want to hand the whole operation over to Corporate America, not to the American people. And they'll sell the whole thing for mere chicken feed, if we let them.
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