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Sweeney on Wal-Mart and Health Care

In today’s Washington Post, labor-union boss John Sweeney offers the usual assortment of crackpot schemes to "help" workers – including, of course, the inevitable call for hiking the minimum-wage.

Pretty predictable stuff. I mention Sweeney’s essay only to highlight this recommendation of his:

Let’s require big, profitable companies such as Wal-Mart to provide health care to their employees instead of passing the cost along to everybody else, and let’s begin to develop a national health care plan that provides affordable coverage to all Americans.

Overlook the fact that the compensation Wal-Mart pays its workers is set competitively; hence, by mandating that Wal-Mart and other companies provide health-insurance coverage to their workers, some other form of compensation (wages, perhaps) that these companies pay to their workers would fall, making these workers on the whole worse off.

Overlook the fact that the opportunity to work at Wal-Mart is a benefit to its workers; otherwise, they would not work at Wal-Mart. Whatever are their next-best alternatives, these alternatives are surely worse than working at Wal-Mart.

Overlook the fact that just because "we" – the public – might pick-up the medical expenses of a poor, uninsured Wal-Mart worker, the fact that Wal-Mart doesn’t provide health insurance to this worker does not mean (contrary to Sweeney’s implication) that Wal-Mart is free-riding on the rest of us. After all, Wal-Mart is making its workers’ lives better than they would be otherwise. So why blame Wal-Mart for failure to do even more? Why not blame Mr. Sweeney, his union charges, and every reader of the Washington Post for not giving more to charities that would pay the medical expenses for people without health insurance? Is it appropriate for me to accuse Mr. Sweeney of free-riding on the rest of us because he could, but doesn’t, personally pay the medical expenses of some uninsured Americans? If he paid such expenses, these Americans would not receive medical care at the expense of everyone else.

Instead, simply note that in a single sentence Sweeney condemns group sharing of the costs of health care and endorses such a plan for group sharing of the costs of health care.