A Lesson from Passport Control

by Don Boudreaux on July 29, 2007

in Health, Myths and Fallacies, Reality Is Not Optional

Late Friday evening, Karol and I flew, on Delta Airlines, from Bucharest to New York’s JFK airport.  We had two hours to connect to our Delta flight to Washington’s Dulles airport.  We missed our flight.  And herein lies a lesson.

The reason we missed our flight is that nearly 50 minutes of our time after landing was consumed by waiting in a long and slow-moving line to clear passport control.  At that terminal on Friday evening, the TSA had only three agents to service the line of U.S. citizens returning from abroad.  Three.  That’s it.  Most of the passport-control-agent booths stood empty.

So as we silently fumed and inched forward in line, I couldn’t help but wonder why so many people want the same agency that cannot adequately staff one of the country’s busiest international airports (during the height of international-travel season) to run Americans’ health-care.  If government were to take over more completely the supply of medical services in the U.S., the same sorts of under-staffing (i.e., shortages of service) would occur.

In light of my recent experience — which isn’t unusual — at JFK, can anyone give me a plausible reason why I should be optimistic that government would adequately staff (and maintain – remember Walter Reed!) its hospitals and medical clinics?  With the same general set of incentives facing bureaucrats who now supply "passport control" facing bureaucrats who would supply medical care, it’s a childish fantasy to imagine that people needing medical care would not encounter unnecessarily long queues when seeking government-supplied medical care.

Those persons who think me cynical, or who think that I draw a mistaken lesson from my experience at passport control, should ask themselves as seriously as they can just why they suppose that government-supplied medical care will not be characterized by the kinds of frustrations that travelers and post-office patrons routinely suffer.

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