A Recipe for Poverty

A friend of mine lives in one of those helpful European countries with nationalized health care and social services and everything you could want.  And I know from experience that these systems can work pretty well for a lot of people.  I understand the appeal.

But my friend’s recent struggles to get the care she needs (nothing wildly expensive) leads me to think nationalization of social supports is a very bad solution. Here’s why:

Government-run services are much harder to shut down if they become corrupt, incompetent, or unsafe.  It takes, literally, an act of Congress.  (And then some).  In comparison, privately-run services can be boycotted by consumers, or in the case of safety-violations, legitimately shut down by government regulators.

When the system doesn’t work, there is nowhere else to turn.  Taxpayer-funded, universal-enrollment systems squeeze out private providers.  The money I could have spent on private fees has already been mailed to the government in taxes.  I no longer have that cash on hand.  The vastly diminished demand for privately-provided services also means therea are fewer private providers available to choose from.

“Universal” services shortchange the poor.  The supposed reason for creating nationalized services is so that the poor have access to the essentials they need, such as medical care or education.  The reality of government-run bureaucracies, however, is that they favor the upper-middle class — the people who have the resources and connections to work the system to their advantage.

How, then, to help the poor? By helping the poor.

Those who truly cannot provide for themselves do indeed need our assistance.  One can reasonably argue that in a large, diverse, and mobile society, government-provided alms are a legitimate way of caring for those who might otherwise be overlooked by private charities.

But the whole nation cannot need alms.  It is a mathematical joke.  We cannot all be poor all the time.

4 thoughts on “A Recipe for Poverty

  1. …..coming from Canada, where my elderly folks are now fearful to go the doctor/hospital, I can attest the truth of your observations.

    Another, subtle problem: People become dependent of the gov’t, to the point where they don’t believe they can subsist on their own. This is rarely vocalized, but anyone who voices opposition to government services as having long-term deleterious effects are stared or shouted down as being alarmists. Going with the flow is considered the most important virtue in a truly socialist nation.

    Unfortunately, to paraphrase GK Chesterton, any dead thing can go with the flow. It takes a live creature to fight the current. And, as you rightfully note, there is precious little an individual can really do when the currents of government programs begin to be inefficient, or in direct opposition to the best interests of those they allegedly ‘serve.’

  2. Exactly. One gets painted radical-libertarian for suggesting that not the entire nation needs state-subsidized, state-run ___________.

    Indeed, in writing this post, I intentionally did not mention one of our big US state-run services, because I knew it would make people get all berserker that I’d dare question such a basic need. People are right to want something better than seeing friends and relatives suffer for want of essentials. I don’t argue against alms, even government-funded, for a moment. Not a bit. I just want my taxes to go towards helping the poor, and not toward ignoring the poor and satiating everyone else.

  3. First I would like to say I hope your friend finds relief from her medical/health issues.

    The theories do look good “on paper” and even though some services are good but the reality of a complete or across the board system in my opinion is that it will be imperfect. This is because it is ran by humans and even though we are a superior species we are so far from perfection. A lot of people lead their lives by emotions and sometimes those emotions manifest in greed, envy, self-entitlement, dishonesty, etc. maybe not their whole life but at least at some point and for some it goes unchecked and grows larger. Or maybe the long running joke about it is impossible to find an honest politician and/or an honest lawyer.

    Your post reminded me of this “story” or “joke” ..although depending on where it floats around the internet it is verified by snopes.com as a legend. But I say a good one to ponder nonetheless.


    An economics professor at Texas Tech said he had never failed a single
    student, but had once failed an entire class.

    The class (students) insisted that socialism worked since no one would be
    poor and no one would be rich, a great equalizer. The professor then said,
    “OK, we will have an experiment in this class on socialism.”

    “All grades will be averaged and everyone will receive the same grade so
    no one will fail and no one will receive an A.”

    After the first test the grades were averaged and everyone got a B. The
    students who had studied hard were upset while the students who had
    studied very little were happy.

    But, as the second test rolled around, the students who had studied little
    studied even less and the ones who had studied hard decided that since
    they couldn’t make an A, they also studied less. The second Test average
    was a D.

    No one was happy. When the 3rd test rolled around the average grade was an

    The scores never increased as bickering, blame, name calling, all resulted
    in hard feelings and no one would study for anyone else.

    To their great surprise all failed. The professor told them that socialism
    would ultimately fail because the harder people try to succeed the greater
    their reward (capitalism) but when a government takes all the reward
    away (socialism) no one will try or succeed.

    1. “the reality of a complete or across the board system in my opinion is that it will be imperfect.”

      What disturbs me about nationalized systems is how hard they are to reform. Mandatory participation is I think at the heart of the problem: When you can’t opt out, or can’t opt out without great cost, corruption can be left unchecked and there is no recourse. When I look at the US federally- and state-run programs that work pretty well (with imperfections, yes, but still pretty well), they all have a voluntary component to them.

      The other type of system that is reformable is mandatory participation in which the wealthy have no option of avoiding the system, and they experience it *the same way* as everyone else. DMV, for example, has managed to be reformable, because rich and poor have to stand in the same line at the same office, elbow-to-elbow. But, it reforms *according to the needs of the wealthy*.

      –> What disturbs me on both left and right, is all the the approaches that talk about helping the poor, but don’t actually try to help the poor.

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