Healthcare is not a Normal Good

Freakonomics » New Freakonomics Podcast: Does College Still Matter? And Other FREAK-y Questions Answered.

[Healthcare] is virtually the only part of the economy where I can go out and get any service I want—cancer treatment, open heart surgery, have a wart removed, whatever it is—and I pay $3 for it or $5 for it or nothing, even if it costs $50,000 or $100,000.  I mean, imagine if you had the same situation with automobiles.  Where I could show up at the car dealership and I could say, ‘I want the Mercedes for free.’  Well, people say, ‘You can’t have the Mercedes for free.  You have to pay $50,000 for it.’  You say, ‘Why not, I have an inalienable right to free healthcare.  Right?  Why don’t I have an inalienable right to a free Mercedes?’

I love Levitt and Dubner, but here they lose their way.  They miss an important moral dimension to the argument over healthcare.  The best response was in the comments from “Miichael[sic?]”

To extend your Mercedes analogy, what usually happens is that you are told by your personal Car Expert that you need a Mercedes or you will die. You can’t afford one, and your Car Insurer says they won’t pay for one. So you walk. And you die.

Why I Love Thinking: It’s a Rare Commodity

This morning I saw some college undergrads analyze the healthcare bill more incisively than any legislator, policy wonk, or pundit. That is both a source of pride in the students I’m privileged to teach and terror in that none of our leaders in Washington seem to get what the hell is going on.

This is a black eye most of all on my President Barack Obama who, as a generally supportive but frustrated professor said, “should have brought doctors and economists together to craft a real solution” to be debated in Congress. I once thought his standards too high, but mine were too low. And it is clearly reflected in the bill.

I’m still optimistic because our system seems to be self correcting over the long haul. I pray we correct soon. Until then I’ll at least enjoy the GOP get pummelled by fact checks.