The Love Potion of Socialized Medicine
By Bryan Caplan
During my flight to Italy, I read Barbara Demick’s outstanding Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea cover to cover. Even if you’ve studied Communism for decades, you’ll be appalled: In the 90s, North Korea basically moved from total state control over the economy to having no economy at all. The government stopped paying salaries and stocking the stores – without relaxing the near-prohibition on all private sector activities. For most, the only way to obey the law was to sit still until you died of hunger. The exiles Demick interviewed, starved and imprisoned, were the lucky ones. All had friends and family who perished in this absurdist hell.
Yet after all their suffering, North Korean exiles who made it to South Korea still had good things to say about their homeland. The most striking:
There were things she [Mrs. Song] missed about North Korea – the camaraderie among neighbors; the free health care before the system broke down.
Frankly, this makes about as much sense as ex-cons pining for their prison hospital. The North Korean government turns a country into a prison, starves millions to death, and yet escapees still think “free health care” is worth mentioning? What’s wrong with people?
To me, this reveals a lot about the world-wide appeal of government-run health care. Socialized medicine is like a love potion. The government can treat you like dirt, but as long as it slips a little of this potion into your drink, you’ll probably think “How wonderful – the government loves me so much that it takes care of me whenever I’m sick without asking for a thing in return.” And who would be vile enough not to love such a government back?
My point: Whatever you think about socialized medicine, it’s not that great. It’s not remotely enough to, say, redeem North Korea. The fact that anyone would imagine otherwise reveals a strong human tendency to judge socialized medicine like a bad boyfriend – with our hearts instead of our heads. When someone says, “Dump him – he’s just not good for you!” we really ought to calm down and listen.