Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Poison is in the Dose

One of the confusing things about life is this: A behavior which works once, doesn't work the next time. It would be nice if there were good behaviors, and bad behaviors. As a parent, one could reward the good, punish the bad, and ignore the in between. Fortunately, life is not that simple.

A behavior (say, going to the bathroom) is appropriate if you go, say 4 times a day. It is not appropriate if you go 10,000 times a day. The poison is in the dose.

There is, contrary to the protestations of my Libertarian (capital L) friends, nothing wrong with a group of people forming a representative government, and then deciding to fund that government by contributions. If the government (a monopoly over use of force, over a certain geographical area) uses force to make sure all pay their fair share, that can be either good or bad. The fair share would be determined by the people, as represented by their government. Still, the government would not be a good government if it took too much of the people's money, as most government spending is less efficient than the spending of the people for themselves. Still government spending can be effective for some small specialties where the 'good' produced is widely agreed to be necessary, and is also understood to not be for the small benefit of any particular person. For example, national defense is a diffuse good, necessary, but not terribly easy to fund by private contributions.

On the other hand, health care, entertainment, and religous satisfaction are the most personal 'goods that can be imagined. Government spending is not appropriate, and attempts to fund personal goods with public funds lead to horrid inefficiencies, amazing levels of corruption, and even flight of citizens from the wasteful goods which are produced. For example, a major product of the vaunted Canadian health care program is your position on the waiting list. Since 90% of Canada's population are within 2 hours of the US border, Canadians with any money available will chose to get heath care from the US doctors. They can also seek care from Canadian doctors who also practice in the US to avoid some of the regulation and limitations provided by the Canadian system. Both Canadian health care providers and Canadian patients will willingly do without the 'list position value' provided by the Canadian system. US health care is highly regulated, by the national Medicare system which sets prices, insurance companies which limit the procedures for which they will pay, and by the market, which limits the health insurance price that employers are willing to pay. Why do Canadians come south to get health care under US rules, rather than US citizens flocking north to take up their places on the Canadian waiting lists? The poison is in the dose.

In general, if the dose is too high, the right answer is to cut the dose. It is odd to have to say it, but when a problem is caused by government intervention, the solution will not be more government intervention. Rather, a better result will be found by cutting government regulation, taxes, and reducing prosecution priority. Why? The poison is in the dose.

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