Sunday, August 16, 2009

Government, Health Care, and Food

As the country debates health care, many commentators have criticized claims that Americans have a right to health care by asking: do Americans have a right to a certain quantity and quality of food? We allow capitalism to provide our food needs, why not our health care? If we minimize the role of government in food, shouldn't we do the same for health care?

Those are useful comments, but one should keep in mind that if EVER food was inadequately provided by capitalism, government would immediately begin taking a larger role in food production.

Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of externalities in food production. These externalities include environmental pollution and animal welfare. They are increasingly calling on government to address these externalities, and if government begins responding, poor government regulations could begin to interfere with capitalism's ability to provide food, which would in turn spur government to take a larger role in food provision to fix the problems that they made.

This is exactly what has happened in health care. For example, government regulations require insurance companies to provide a certain standard of care. Those standards keep rising, which keep insurance premiums rising, pricing the millions of people without health care out of the market. Then we have people without health care, which leads people to call on government to fix that problem. Government involvement leads to problems which leads to government fixes, and the process repeats.

So, before we begin to allow government to have a larger role in food production, we should seriously consider this possible, perhaps probable, outcomes. I'm not saying government should not address these externalities, only that we should be cognizant about how regulation might play-out.