This Horror Story is Long-Running

by Don Boudreaux on June 2, 2014

in Hayek, Health, History, Hubris and humility, Other People's Money, Reality Is Not Optional

Here’s an assessment, appearing in a popular national publication in the U.S., of Veterans’ Administration health care:

Our disabled veterans are being betrayed by the incompetency, bureaucracy, and callousness of the Veterans’ Administration, the agency set up … years ago to ensure the finest medical care for them.

The writer of these words goes on to document a plague of abominable medical treatments (and failures to give any medical treatment at all!) unleashed by the V.A.

“Hardly news,” you yawn.  ”Accounts of V.A. failures have been flying around fast and furiously for the past few weeks!”

Well, ‘hardly news’ is a more accurate response than you probably realize.  The above quotation is from an article by Albert Maisel published in Cosmopolitan in March 1945 and condensed in the April 1945 issue of The Reader’s Digest.  (This issue of The Reader’s Digest is famous for featuring the condensation of F.A. Hayek’s 1944 volume, The Road to Serfdom.)  (HT John Blundell)

Centralized government bureaucracies are now and always have been lousy at customer service.  And they will always be lousy at this task, regardless of who is in charge today of the bureaucracy.  The V.A.’s failure is not the fault of Barack Obama, Eric Shinseki, or of any other sentient creature.  The V.A.’s failure is the result of its centralized, politicized nature.

Government can often successfully pull-off big projects with simple goals – goals that are easily defined and ranked.  ’Build atomic bombs, brutally murder tens of thousands of innocent civilians with them, and then justify the genocide as necessary for the maintenance of civilization’ is an example of a task that government can perform well.  (Governments truly excel at killing and maiming people.  History knows no institution that comes close to matching government’s facility and ingenuity at performing this sanguinary task.)  Likewise, ‘Spend oodles of other people’s money in order to land men on the moon and return them safely to earth’ is another task doable by government.  But successfully providing nuanced customer service better than it can be supplied generally to the public by private-property-based markets – not so much.  No way; no how.

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