My political awakening, meaning the moment I realized what politics in a communist country actually means, happened around the time I was maybe 12-13 years old.
The idea of communism, meaning collective decision making, always had a tendency to degrade into a dysfunctional epistocracy in which the appointed experts were trying to solve problems in the spirit of communism. We had debates about various public concerns. Housing, shortages, prices, absenteeism, you name it. There were television panel discussions and newspaper back-and-forths trying to solve the problems.
For me, it started with two prominent issues at the time: bread and winter boots for women.
Why did half the bread sold had a heavy unbaked lump of dough in the middle of it and why did the sole of the winter boots that cost a week’s salary separated from the top after only a week’s use?
Serious questions, serious discussions. Finger pointing, accusations, brainstorming for the solution.
How to better motivate the workers, how to make sure that they have the right working conditions, how to improve the supply chain, how to plan for better quality control, how to create a better system of accountability and so on ad infinitum. Improving the life of the proletariat and the consumers of these basic goods was of paramount importance for our beloved leaders. They had to keep their fingers on the pulse of the volonté général. Participating in these debates was the communist version of virtue signaling. Anybody who wanted to be anybody in the system had to demonstrate their devotion to the communist ideas, to the foundations of the socialist mode of production (the planned economy) and their willingness to seek out the culprits responsible for the failures.
Because it was considered self evident, that the only possible reason for the failures was the lack of adherence to such principles by some of those responsible for the execution of the grand plan. Participating in the public debates provided opportunities while it was also fraught with dangers. One had to understand well what can be said, criticized and suggested. It was imperative that the suggestions remain within the framework of the existing system.
The only thing that was ABSOLUTELY not possible was the questioning of the system itself: the suggestion of capitalist ideas like competition, private alternatives, the role of price signals and such. That would have been blasphemy, on the level of questioning the divinity of Jesus Christ.
I understood the point, I even sympathized with the attitude. The system is what we had, our job was to make it work, not to destroy it. You cannot improve Christianity either by questioning the most basic tenets of the faith. It took me several years to accept the fact that fundamentally flawed systems cannot be fixed. That was the point when I decided to leave.
Why am I telling you all this? Because reading Dr. Whatley’s book, I’m having a déjà vue.
I see the same attitude, the same cautious hinting of the real causes and their obvious solutions without ever really standing up to name them. The book is full of emotions: indignation, frustration and an emotional plea for a little more kommunist kumbaya and kamaraderie to deal with them.
Dr. Whatley clearly understands the problems – politics and ideology; he has a whole chapter devoted to it (Socialized medicine’s concealed purpose); but in the end he does not dare to spell out the inescapable conclusion. He clearly sees that the bugs of the system are actually features, but he still goes on suggesting that all we need is a little Raid™ to fix the problems.
As evidenced by many of the citations in the book, Dr. Whatley sees himself as a libertarian sympathizer, but cannot bring himself to make actual free market propositions.
AGAIN, I understand why:
He wants to be relevant; he wants to be heard; he wants to be part of the conversation as an insider; he wants to demonstrate his devotion to the moral principles of the overall goal. He wants to be a reformer, not a revolutionary. Just like the good communists talking about the unbaked bread and the unusable winter boots. What he does not seem to understand, is that this approach will make him just as irrelevant as those communists in the 60s were.
Canadian health care has only one problem: it is run by the government. It is a planned system in which price/market signals are completely missing from view for every participant.
The system is a perfect example of every single problem of planned economies that operate under the pretense of knowledge.
Everything Dr. Whatley identifies as a problem, is just a symptom of underlying problems: the pretense of knowledge and the epistocracy fallacy.
Ludwig von Mises explained the problem with planned economies over a hundred years ago in his
“Economic Calculation In The Socialist Commonwealth”
Leonard Read made it simple to understand in “I, pencil”
Hayek dedicated his Nobel prize acceptance speech to it; and I hope I managed to adequately illustrate it in the very first post that I wrote in this blog about my experience in the Canadian health care system.
No economic system can function properly without the help of price signals. It is the ultimate cause of the failure of all centrally planned economies.
I believe that Dr. Whatley understands this, but he is, above all, a “good communist” who is trying to be heard and trying to make things better, just like the good communists of my youth who tried to make the system work.
What he is missing is the understanding that you cannot fix a system built on faulty assumptions.
Tinkering with it will only achieve two things:
It will legitimize the actual, underlying problems (the faulty assumptions) and it will make everything in it worse by creating yet another layer of bureaucratic considerations for the planners.
What Dr. Whatley is missing is the understanding that there is no way to be just a little bit pregnant.
What he is missing is the understanding of the prostitution principle.
What he is missing is the wisdom of Adam Smith saying that – if I may paraphrase him – “There is a great deal of ruin in any socialized enterprise.”
Does this mean that we cannot have a well reasoned argument for the reformation of the system?
Absolutely not, but any such argument should start with the clear identification of the problem, followed by the clear concept of the ideal we should aim for and a clearly specified path we can take to reach it. Trying to save the system from itself is not the answer.
I could offer several suggestions on all three of the above-named tasks, but that is not the point of this post. I don’t want to compete with Dr. Whatley; besides, I think that he is doing an excellent job describing the problems and enumerating the various aspects of the failures.
Unfortunately, he is not willing to go all the way to the root causes nor to the only actual solution, an attempt to imagine a truly free and functional system. Saying emotional, manipulative, virtue signaling things like “we need patient focused healthcare” just doesn’t cut it.
It’s a pity. His heart is in the right place, but to slay the dragon, he would need a little more courage.
As it is, he is only helping the rebirth of the phoenix.