Word from the Front
Your Global Trends report from England (Sept.) was both too optimistic and too pessimistic. The "Omega Project" of the Adam Smith Institute has not yet been published, although some items were leaked during our June election and denounced—I fear too flatteringly—as "the hidden agenda of the Conservative party."
On the other hand, the Conservative Party back in office is being forced to recognize that a continuation of all the present statist health, education, and welfare policies for even five more years will push government spending up to a full half of GNP, with emergent intolerable and electorally ruinous consequences. So we in the Adam Smith Institute are confident that many of the fine libertarian policies of our Omega Project will be adopted—regardless of what was said about and against such policies at the election.
For instance: the new minister of health recently ordered all subordinate authorities to put laundry and other services out to competitive tender. And if anyone has any doubts that there are vast savings to be made by such competitive privatization, they have only to heed the cries of the labor unions, who insist that their members will lose jobs left, right, and center as private competitors do a better job with fewer (but actually working) workers.
Recently I have become concerned about REASON's frequent defense of "alternative" medical practitioners. REASON has always been suitably skeptical of humbuggery such as psychic powers, palm readings, astrology, and UFOs. However, it seems to be developing a fondness in its editorial heart for medical charlatanism, which is not worthy of the level-headedness that otherwise prevails in this excellent magazine.
We read of support for attempts to break up the "medical monopoly" ("Healthy Symptoms," Trends, June), and to the extent that this is merely opposition to an economic cartel (that is, barring entry to the profession to fully competent persons for economic reasons only), I support it. But when it comes to advocacy of the legal practice of "alternative medicine," let the reader beware!
Who are the most popular "alternative medical practitioners" today, who stand most to benefit from the "breakup of the medical monopoly"?
• Chiropractors, who claim that all human diseases can be cured by their "skillful" pushing on or twisting the sufferer's back or neck.
• Acupuncturists, whose "science" describes nonexistent lines of "energy" in the body as well as nonexistent internal organs (such as the "triple warmer").
• Radionics, which claims to heal diseases using ridiculous electromagnetic gizmos. (Three cheers for the FDA, who have been tracking down and arresting such vultures for years!)
• "Holistic healers," many of whom pretend to treat diseases by administering massive doses of vitamins and herbs.
• Cancer quacks of all variety, who profit from false promises made to those in pain or in despair.
What all of these "alternative medical practitioners" have in common is that the results of their supposed treatments cannot be objectively demonstrated.
And anyone who accepts payment by promising to cure a medical problem but in the end cannot do so is defrauding the sufferer. Since the prosecution of fraud is one of the few legitimate functions of government, states such as California are properly protecting the rights of their citizens when they bring charges against those who delude sufferers with fraudulent promises of medical assistance.
San Jose, CA
Mr. Gordon replies: Mr. Sheaffer is mistaken to conclude that REASON promotes the work of alternative medical practitioners as such. But we do defend their right to practice and the patients' right to obtain the practitioners' services.
The fact is that many patients of chiropractors, holistic healers, and witch doctors are satisfied with the care they receive. We may think this is silly, but surely individuals should be free to choose any mode of health care, no matter how sensible or harebrained. So long as the people directly involved—the patient and the practitioner—enter into their transaction voluntarily and keep any promises they make, no bureaucrat should be able to interfere.
How about fraud? As Mr. Sheaffer says, one of government's proper functions may be to prosecute fraud. At least government should provide a legal framework in which victims of fraud can seek restitution from the perpetrators. But a just legal system should not discriminate in this instance among a Harvard Medical School graduate, a Christian Science practitioner, or a purveyor of spinach cures. None should be barred from practice by licensing laws or other preemptive regulation, but all should be subject to the same laws against deceit, contract violation, and criminal negligence. Health-care providers of all persuasions would thus be accountable to their patients, not to overoxygenated government attorneys in Sacramento or Washington. And that's what REASON defends no matter how well or badly people exercise their free choice.
It's Even Worse Than We Thought
In "The User Fee Illusion" (Aug.), Steve Hanke observed that government services cost approximately twice as much as similar services provided by private businesses. From the limited data I have seen, especially for education, I suspect that consistent accounting would show a higher average cost differential, probably at least triple instead of only double.
However, whatever the correct ratio, it is important to note that we are comparing the government cost with the private cost for a particular service with nothing else changed. If all government services were privatized and taxation and regulation were eliminated in a completely free market, the private cost should drop by around two-thirds. Thus the cost of government services (those that would be voluntarily demanded) is probably 6 to 10 times the free-market cost.
This ratio may seem large if one considers only the greater efficiency of private enterprise, which is stimulated by the profit incentive. But government interference in the economy creates tremendous waste, and a large part of the present cost of all factors of production is due to this waste and the taxes that are embedded in the cost of everything.
While government agencies providing services may avoid paying property and sales taxes, they cannot avoid paying for the economic waste and taxes that inflate the cost of labor and other resources they consume. In short, the cost of services now provided by both businesses and governments are inflated by the inclusion of the costs of government activities that few would voluntarily pay for.
W. Alan Burris
Fickle Freedom Fighters
Of course the roots of the American feminist movement are individualist ("The True Mothers of Feminism," July). Women were oppressed by law and by custom, and they sought freedom. Now that they are free, the leaders are looking for new worlds to conquer. The same is true of the now-statist black-advancement movement, which began as an anti-slavery movement.
Those who have been oppressed often yearn to be oppressors. The French and Iranian revolutions come readily to mind, and history is replete with other examples. The Pilgrims didn't come to Plymouth to escape religious persecution; their previous flight to Holland had assured them of that. They came because they wanted to deny freedom of choice to their children (and they were so dogmatic that some of the children fled to New Hampshire).
An organization has a will to live just as an organism does. Freedom is sought as a means to advancement rather than as an end in itself; and when it is attained the legal staff, which is trained to argue any side of an issue, begins a program of oppression of the former oppressors. In this way the staff of the pressure group has something to do and need not disband. Thus, equal opportunity has been perverted into affirmative action, and those who favored the first mindlessly accept its opposite….
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Letters".