I Refused to Shake His Hand
By Bryan Caplan
I truly need a vacation from my vacation. After my kids were diagnosed with bronchitis, I decided I probably had the same ailment. I’m a member of Kaiser, but since I’m out-of-state, my only in-plan option in California was to go to Kaiser’s Urgent Care facility and queue for a doctor.
If I’d been on Candid Camera, opponents of immigration would have overflowed with Schadenfreude. At last, Bryan Caplan gets his come-uppance, sniffling and coughing in the waiting room while the nurses call out scores of Hispanic surnames! But even in my fragile state, this economically illiterate analysis did not tempt me. If Kaiser had fewer Hispanic customers, it would have fewer facilities and fewer employers, and there’s no reason to think my wait would have been any less. Indeed, if there were more Hispanic immigration in the middle of the Arizona desert, perhaps I could have seen a doctor six hours earlier during my drive back from Phoenix.
First-hand experience with the Los Angeles medical system didn’t teach me anything new about the economics of immigration. But I did learn something about the economics of health care. As you may recall, my colleague Robin Hanson argues that medicine is more about “showing that you care” than actually curing people. My experience in SoCal Kaiser’s Urgent Care facility gave me a striking tidbit of confirmation: When the doctor finally got to me, he tried to shake my hand!
So what? Well, if the doctor’s main goal were to prevent the spread of contagious disease, he wouldn’t want to needlessly touch me, would he? Shaking hands is a great way to give me the diseases of his previous patients, and a great way to give my disease to his subsequent patients – especially considering doctors’ irregular hygiene. But offering your hand is a classic way to “show that you care.”
After five days of illness, though, I was in no mood for such nonsense, so I politely refused to shake the doctor’s hand. I’m happy to spend two hours in an Urgent Care center to get my health back. But two hours for a stranger to express phony sympathy, and expose me to a germ cocktail? No thanks!