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Thank Goodness Government Isn’t as Involved in the Food-Service Industry as it is in the Health-Care Industry

Here’s a letter to the New York Times:

Margot Sanger-Katz usefully analogizes Obamacare to all-you-can-eat restaurants (“Football Team at the Buffet: Why Obamacare Markets Are in Crisis,” September 24): if these restaurants don’t price their buffets wisely, they go bankrupt.

Given the helpfulness of Ms. Sanger-Katz’s analogy, I’m surprised that it didn’t lead her to draw what is for me the obvious conclusion – namely, replace heavy government involvement in health-care with private competitive markets of the sort in which restaurants and supermarkets operate.  After all, despite the pricing challenges that Ms. Sanger-Katz correctly notes confront many restaurants, they continue to thrive, all while being only very lightly regulated and completely unsubsidized.

Nutrition is even more vital to human well-being than is health-care.  Yet nutrition is today supplied abundantly and in great and ever-improving varieties by privately owned and operated restaurants and supermarkets competing in open, decentralized markets for the dollars of consumers.  And consumers are free to spend at these private establishments as much or as little as, and however, they choose.  It somehow all works out beautifully.

If competition within unsubsidized and lightly regulated private food-service markets – with their continually falling real prices, improving quality, and expanding variety – keeps Americans well fed, why presume that competition within unsubsidized and lightly regulated private health-care markets would not work just as effectively to keep Americans well doctored?

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

(I thank Peter Minowitz for the pointer to Sanger-Katz’s essay.)