There is a huge divide in the United States right now. We’re fighting over practically everything. One key issue in this ongoing conflict is how to best distribute limited goods and services. Arguments on both sides are passionate and persuasive. Probably the most contentious issue is healthcare. Liberals believe that the free market is not good at making sure healthcare is distributed fairly. Many conservatives would take issue with the idea of fairness entering into the equation at the distribution level at all. If you’re reading this you’ve probably invested some mental effort in understanding your own beliefs about this issue and the web of issues surrounding it. Although it would be fun to delve into all of those things, give impassioned and reasonable arguments concluding that my way is the right way or whatever, that is not what today’s exercise is about. I want to think differently about government distribution vs. market distribution.
Turning over one fifth of the nation’s economy to the government on a whim, or even as an experiment, seems a little nuts, but what if we could pre-test the hypothesis that government can do it better? For the moment we’re going to leave aside failed socialist states, and assume as liberal orthodoxy tells us, that they just did it wrong.
So let’s not use twenty percent, or two percent, or even two tenths of a percent of the economy. Let’s test the government’s ability to provide a single product at or above market efficiency. If they can do that, then perhaps they can take on something a little bigger, and we can eventually move to a completely state controlled market substitute. The key is picking something that is perceived as necessary, something that is very important to Americans, but, something that if it were to be completely mismanaged and we couldn’t get it at all, or we could only get it in Minnesota, or whatever travesty happened, we, as a country would still be all right.
I’m sitting in Starbucks right now, waiting for a new screen to be put on my iPhone, so I nominate coffee. Let’s let the government completely take over all the coffee business in the United States. Let the government decide how much we get to drink, where we can purchase and at what cost, what beans get imported and how they get roasted, etc. Now, if you own a coffee shop, even if you agree with my premise, which is the government will cock this up and maybe, just maybe America will get the point, you are saying ‘hell no!’ because the government would be coming in and messing with your livelihood. Imagine how the doctors feel.
But you’re right. We need buy in before we pick a product/service for the government to test their abilities on. (But haven’t they already with some healthcare, the military, the roads, education, space, and so on…yes, but repetition is the mother of learning.) So, we need to nominate 19 more products or services. That way Ms. Coffee shop owner only has a five percent chance of her industry being disrupted and is more likely to sign on to my grand experiment. Local governments are neck deep in regulating barbers and hair braiders and so on, so maybe haircare. Maybe breakfast cereal. I don’t know. We just pick them and get everyone to agree.
Once we have the product list it should be simple to get agreement. If you, as a liberal, believe that the government is going to be better at managing the health care industry than the market you should be all in. First, coffee, then cereal, then THE WORLD! If you’re conservative, and you’re sure that the government is going to botch this, you don’t want to sign because you like your coffee and Grape Nuts in the morning, but you realize that the lesson is worth the sacrifice. Plus, if you know it’s coming you can trade some of that gold you have stashed in your safe for a year’s supply of vacuum-packed coffee, and just ride it out. So the conservatives should agree.
There are only two hold outs that I can think of. People who think governments do some things well, and some things poorly, and philosophical libertarians such as myself who think that even if they did it better, it doesn’t matter because it’s wrong. Since this is my rodeo I’ll sign on. I can’t speak for my fellow crazies, or for the people that look at the highway system, or NASA, or the military and see something that the market couldn’t create. I don’t understand them anyway, so speaking for them is beyond me.
It seems to me that at least eighty five percent of Americans should be behind this experiment and honestly interested in the results. There are problems. If the state knows this is a test they can throw massive resources at it, like cramming for a test, and they could ‘fool’ America in to thinking they were competent when they were not. But I’m not sure they would. Admitting, even to themselves, that they had to cheat to run coffee shops might put philosophical brakes on even the most progressive thinkers. The thought process might be something like, I know I had to cheat to win at tic-tac-toe, but I’m sure I can be a grand master at chess. I hope that no one in power would think that way, although lately I’m not so sure.
The other problem, and one I’m willing to admit is at least possible, is maybe they’re good at it. Maybe coffee gets better under government regulation/control. Obviously I think this is unlikely, but if it were to turn out to be true I’d be willing to reexamine my thoughts. But I’m certain a third of the country wouldn’t, just as I’m sure that if it were a colossal failure a third of the country would say ‘they just didn’t do it right.’