Saturday, March 31, 2012

Reducing Health Care Spending

This article raises an important point about health care that is infrequently discussed.  Throughout history, health care has been naturally limited by our level of medical skill and knowledge.  Doctors had limits to what they could do and they usually reached those limits without generating enormous costs.  But every patient was eventually lost.  That last item is still true today, every patient is eventually lost.  Yet today, we have the capacity to consume enormous resources in the process.  The difficult philosophical point is, "When is enough, enough?"  I daresay that most of us can point to some event in our past in which we would have succumbed to injury or illness if we had been living 300 years ago.  Without modern medicine, we wouldn't be here today.  For that, we are thankful.  For many, the day will come when we have a choice between expensive, life-preserving medical intervention and death.  In a perfect world, there should be a point at which it is rational to choose death instead of burdening our successors with the cost of continued life.

Generally, health care is a parasitic drag on the economy.  While it's true that frequently non-productive lives can be improved to the point that they come productive, that is a temporary effect.  Eventually, every life loses its capacity to be productive.  Money that goes into health care is money that could otherwise be spent on the genuine engines of wealth like energy production, natural resource extraction, innovation, agriculture, or manufacturing.

There are some who argue that life is so sacred that it must my preserved at all costs if it is humanly possible to do so.  If this were to be the law of the land, we should be prepared to shoulder the full economic cost of that principle.  Health care costs under this regime could be expected to become virtually limitless.  As those costs divert more and more resources from productive economic activities, there will come a point at which the economic engine will falter and stall.  The days of this civilization will be over.

If we are to prevent this quiet apocalypse, we must have a rational limit on our health care spending.  We must know when enough is enough.  We must prepare for the time when our time is past.  Socrates held a principle that each man is obligated to do whatever the state asked of him.  He saw this principle as fundamental to civilization as he knew it.  When the state demanded his life, he gave it up.  How can we find a rational basis for giving up our own lives in order to prevent the dissolution of our own civilization?

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