Thursday, July 15, 2010

I am Doomed

I have been told that you don’t really know anything until you experience it first hand. While this might not always be the case, it is certainly true when it comes to raising children. Is it a rewarding experience? Yes. Is it a necessary experience? Absolutely. Nevertheless, having one child is not a good indicator of how hard and time consuming raising two children can be.

During this past week, I have had a revelation. I am doomed, at least in regards to the new rationed health care system that we are soon going to enjoy. During this past week, my wife scheduled an appointment with her hairdresser. Since she is a stay-at-home Mom, I try to accommodate these outings as best I can. So I got to play Mr. Mom at home. In fact, it started out rather nicely. The wife dropped the boy off at his half-day preschool, so it was just me and the three-year old girl for the morning. Breakfast, playing, reading, lunch all went smoothly.

Then the carpool brings the boy home. However, he is sporting a fashionable band-aid on his hand. Apparently, at preschool, he was running, fell into the mulch and embedded a 0.5 – 0.75 inch splinter in his palm. It looked like it was removed, but I couldn’t really tell. So while he had his lunch, I called the injury expert—my Mom. After lunch and an inspection by Grandma, it was determined that a call to the pediatrician was necessary.

So I called and got a message that they were out to lunch until 2pm. I then impatiently waited an hour and called again. Shortly after 2pm, I got through and talked to a machine. After not pressing numbers 1-8, I got a person who then said that the next available appointment was at 4:50pm. From a larger perspective, I suppose that this is perfectly reasonable, but I have discovered that I am not very good at waiting. I am a fairly impatient person when it comes to the service industry. All I could think of was that this appointment was about three hours away.

And then it struck me, I am doomed when socialized medicine becomes reality. The most distinguishing feature of socialized health care is the incredible amount of waiting one has to do.

You see, scarce resources need to be rationed. There are so many people that want the services and there is less than that available. If there were more available than people wanted, then the resource wouldn’t be economically scarce; it would be a free good. The economic question that arises is how do we divvy up the resources to the people who want them? There are a number of methods to do this distribution: according to need; first come, first served; a lottery; by force; according to merit; or by the market.

With the sole exception of the market, all of these methods ignore supply incentives. In other words, when there is an increase in demand none of these, except for the market solution, will communicate to the producers that more is needed and reward those who produce that extra amount. The non-market methods of distributing goods and services translate an increase in demand into an increase in non-pecuniary costs, like, for example, standing in line. Instead of creating more health care services, the lines just get longer and longer.

So I suppose that I should be thankful that I was able to schedule an appointment for the same day. I think that in the not too distant future, I will be able to think back nostalgically and think, “Do you remember when you could call a doctor’s office and make an appointment for that same day, instead of days (weeks, months, whatever) later like we have today?”

What I do know is that I will not be able to skirt the system. My wife will have to take charge of this as well. She has the comparative advantage when it comes to bribery. She lived in Eastern Europe that had freshly thrown off the yolk of communism. While they were striving for freedom, there were several industries that had not been completely adjusted to the market.

Here is the story that she likes to tell… She was skiing, hurt her neck and decided, later, that she needed to see a doctor. Making an appointment in the official manner would have taken months. So some of her friends, had friends who knew people, who set up an appointment for her. It required a bribe—coffee. Apparently, coffee was rare and expensive at this time. However you can’t do what I would have done and say, “Here’s your bribe, may I now see the doctor?” No, that wouldn’t do. Instead there is a whole art to bribery. What my wife was told to say was, “As I was walking to the office, I noticed this coffee in the store window and thought that you might really enjoy it, blah, blah, blah….”

So this analysis leads me to an inevitable conclusion. I have no patience to wait for health care services and I have no bribery skills. So in the coming years, when socialized health care takes over, I am doomed. Now some young entrepreneur might sense an opportunity here. How about a class on how to bribe? If my wife offered such a class, I could then send her into the work force and permanently become a stay-at-home Dad. Oh my! That might even be worse. I am so doomed.


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