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.