In 1628, the King of Sweden Gustavus Adolphus commissioned the construction of a massive warship, the Vasa, to contend for control of the Baltic against rivals in Poland and Denmark. Like many government initiatives, it was heavy in force – 64 large bronze cannon – and top-heavy with useless imperial ornamentation. In fact it was so top heavy that 1,400 yards into its maiden voyage, a heavy gust rolled her open gun ports into the sea, and she sank in full view of the celebrants on the dock. Undeterred by this example of poor foundational logic, Crazy Bernie Sanders is gearing up for his primary swan song with a lot of coverage and a lot of moony-eyed followers over his love for nationalized health care. In this “House of God,” bad gomer ideas just won’t die…no matter how may times they are refuted.
In 2012, Britain started to emulate Sweden in privatizing hospitals. The state began outsourcing to private equity firms, which boomed as private firms introduced “competition into what had been one of the world’s most ‘socialized’ medical systems.” A former Swedish civil servant in the health service compared his country with Britain: “The difference between Sweden and England is that privatization of a hospital was only considered when you had big financial problems.” It wasn’t his point, but it begs the question: if the socialized approach is so good, why switch to the private approach to bail it out? And why not start with capitalism instead of work your way to it?
The managing firm, Capio, bragged to the Brits about their St Göran hospital: “Emergency patients see a doctor within half an hour, compared with waits of up to four hours in the NHS. We took [a] department that dealt with 35,000 patients a year and now treats 75,000.” Capio also proclaims “low levels of hospital-acquired infections, and patient surveys record high levels of public satisfaction. It has also produced year-on-year productivity gains – something the state cannot match.” The company president tells us “the profit motive works in healthcare” and companies run on “capitalism, not altruism.” And he’s right! No, I’m not taken in by an administrator gleefully waving around patient satisfactions scores, and I wonder whether the staff satisfaction scores were not inversely proportional. Still…
Don’t try to sell capitalism to The New York Times. Their economics writer Robert Frank wrote a year after the Brits became envious of the Swedes that, “Another important difference is that, unlike many American health insurance providers, the government groups that manage Swedish health care are nonprofit entities. Because their charge is to provide quality care for all citizens, they don’t face the same incentive to withhold care that for-profit organizations do.” (And really focus on this next line,) “Because of pervasive market failures in private health care markets, this may be the sector that benefits most from collective action.” The same collective action that the Brits are trying to get out from under? The same collective action that has Swedes cheering capitalism and Canadians getting new hips in Ohio? Let’s zoom back to Sweden to hear from Christina Rigert. The 62 year-old Rigert was a hospital administrator who “resigned on principle” when it was privatized a decade ago. Now back as a patient after gastric band surgery, she says: “The experience was very good. I had no complaints. There’s less waiting than other hospitals. I still do not think there should be private hospitals in Sweden but it’s happening.” So she had a good experience, which she is against.
To sum: collective action and altruism may be demonstrated to be less effective, but nicer and more popular. Capitalism works better despite its flaws, which apparently include demanding more productivity out of government employees whose satisfaction with the status quo is adequately camouflaged by their public compassion. A not insignificant portion of the U.S. electorate – abetted by a cadre of numbskull physicians who regard noblesse oblige as data – is now pushing to adopt the discredited ideas from Europe.Tweet