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The failures of the American healthcare system aren’t a symptom of gov­ernment inter­vention or imperfect com­pe­tition. They are a nec­essary feature of the cap­i­talist system and profit-seeking in the private economy.

On Oct. 17, the Col­legian pub­lished an Op-Ed by junior Trevor Vogel and a letter to the editor by Christopher Martin, asso­ciate pro­fessor of eco­nomics. Each decried gov­ernment inter­vention is the fun­da­mental reason why a market system is inad­e­quate to address our healthcare needs. They used this defense to dismiss any other mea­sures that involve the gov­ernment.

Their basic logic goes: gov­ernment inter­vention raises healthcare prices, so more gov­ernment inter­vention will do the same. This argument commits the informal fallacy of equiv­o­cation. Martin uses an analogy, writing, “We wouldn’t help a poi­soned patient by giving him more poison.”

Both articles fail to make a cat­e­gorical dis­tinction between dif­ferent kinds of gov­ernment inter­vention, falling into the trap of over­gen­er­al­ization. For example, a gov­ernment agency which reg­u­lates the price of med­i­cines could just set lower prices. Sim­i­larly, a gov­ernment firm could produce generic med­icine and sell it at the cost of pro­duction.

Each of these solu­tions falls under Vogel and Martin’s def­i­n­ition of gov­ernment inter­vention, even when they would do the exact opposite of what they claim. A more coherent argument would say: gov­ernment inter­vention which limits com­pe­tition raises healthcare prices, so more gov­ernment inter­vention that limits com­pe­tition will do the same.

“The system isn’t dys­func­tional because of inherent problems with free markets,” Martin writes. But he misses the point that others and I, who are critical of cap­i­talism, make. Rather than taking issue with an abstract concept of a “free market,” we con­sider the real, con­scious act of profit-seeking in the healthcare industry as the cause of death for tens of thou­sands of Amer­icans every year.

The system Martin ref­er­ences actually func­tions exceed­ingly well for those who control it. The implicit moral assump­tions behind the concept of a “free market” tell us that profit-seeking is not only acceptable, but even pro­ductive and good.

Vogel and Martin’s mistake lies in trying to sep­arate the cap­i­talist system from what they term gov­ernment inter­vention. This binary, dual­istic dis­tinction is arbi­trary and unworkable.

Instead of reserving our cri­tique to the private economy, critics of cap­i­talism employ a holistic approach, which includes how the gov­ernment is influ­enced by private capital. This debate on market healthcare exists not in market eco­nomics, but in ethics, and it ques­tions why we per­petuate a system struc­tured in a way that incen­tivizes deadly deci­sions.

The sad truth of our market economy is revealed. We unjustly defer to self-inter­ested exec­u­tives to control the pro­duction, price, and dis­tri­b­ution of life-saving med­i­cines. As econ­omist Milton Friedman argued in a 1970 issue of The New York Times Mag­azine, a business’s only respon­si­bility is to profit. They’re only inter­ested in the lives of patients insofar as they can extract profit from them.

It might be dif­ficult for some to envision what a decom­mod­ified economy would look like, but that only speaks to our lack of imag­i­nation. Examples exist all around us — roads, side­walks, parks, drinking foun­tains, libraries, public restrooms, Wikipedia, and police and fire depart­ments.

One case often over­looked is our edu­cation system. We’ve decided to control this sector demo­c­ra­t­i­cally rather than exposing it to private dom­i­nation. Com­mu­nities can decide to spend more or less money on schooling; they elect boards and super­in­ten­dents to enact changes they want; and, best of all, every single child is guar­anteed a spot in the classroom.

Our edu­cation system is not perfect, but it’s ori­ented toward the purpose of edu­cating children rather than man­u­fac­turing profit. The decision-makers of schools are directly inter­ested in edu­cating children whereas the decision-makers of large cor­po­ra­tions hire exec­u­tives and appoint boards that only work to max­imize profit. If private interests con­trolled edu­cation, many thou­sands of children would be forced to go without one.

Notice how we measure value in decom­mod­ified areas. Where suc­cessful schools have test scores, grades, and college accep­tance rates, suc­cessful for-profit firms have profit margins, div­i­dends, and stock prices. Even a med­icine man­u­fac­turer is lauded and rewarded for how much money it makes rather than how many patients it helps. Decom­mod­i­fi­cation of the healthcare system could reverse this and set our pri­or­ities straight.

How can we incen­tivize deci­sions that favor people over profit? A market economist’s best reply is “com­pe­tition”: we should still let profit-seekers control these firms, but more than one of them would compete for patients. But to really strike at the fun­da­mental problem, we need to change the decision-makers. Instead of exec­u­tives and profit-seeking share­holders con­trolling the pro­duction and dis­tri­b­ution of med­icine, we can put the means of pro­duction into the hands of those most con­cerned and directly impacted.

In the case of insulin pro­duction, the answer is simple: dia­betics. If a non­profit orga­ni­zation com­posed of dia­betics demo­c­ra­t­i­cally-con­trolled insulin pro­duction, it would be directly con­cerned with pro­ducing insulin safely and effi­ciently at a low cost. They could make deci­sions on man­u­fac­turing, research, and price based on helping patients rather than extracting the most profit.

It’s a simple task to explain the con­nection between patents and a lack of com­pe­tition, but both Vogel and Martin failed to answer a tougher and more inter­esting question: Why should we trust profit-seeking indi­viduals to make important deci­sions such as the price of med­icine? These indi­viduals aren’t accountable to the life-and-death impli­ca­tions of their deci­sions.

Each of the out­lined problems can be traced back to one common theme: profit-seeking. In a dif­ferent world, people could work in coop­er­ation instead of com­pe­tition to solve problems; we could measure our economy based on hap­piness, health, leisure, cre­ativity, and progress rather than GDP and profit; best of all, nobody would die because they can’t afford healthcare.

Cal Abbo is a columnist on Demo­c­ratic pol­itics and a junior studying psy­chology. He is an assistant culture editor for The Col­legian.