It’s always been puzzling why we eliminate a market service under force of law, only to reinvent it and replace it at taxpayer expense, or for a protected monopoly.
This usually happens over a period of considerable time, so few people remember the history. Younger generations just conclude it was never possible for the private market to provide for what is needed, when in reality market solutions were never allowed to evolve.
Ambulance services, nursing homes, medical clinics, garbage collection services, fire protection services, bus service, energy generation — are just some examples.
The service is usually removed by imposing such government-enforced high standards that the private sector can’t afford to continue to provide the service, then that is used as justification for why government has to do it or to subsidize some protected monopoly to step in. But sometimes they just flat out prohibit it with no concern about the fallout for citizens.
Most people know the horror stories that are often associated with nursing homes, but as is often the case, the rare horror story was played as though it represented all. There were no big stories about the very wonderful small facilities that used to serve local communities. These were often conversions of a large home that had been built years before. They commonly served a dozen or so patients, who were members of local families. They provided their patients with a very homelike atmosphere that was warm and welcoming. Families could visit frequently because they were so close. The frequent visitation by families was also an effective monitoring of how the homes were operated, as well as a source of comfort and encouragement for the patients.
In many respects the caretakers of these facilities were far ahead of the institutions that regulations advanced. It wasn’t that long ago, that large modern institutionalized nursing homes were proudly announcing breakthroughs in how to deal with Alzheimer or other dementia- impaired patients, by allowing them to actually DO things they were used to doing in life. Like letting a former mailman sort mail – or a housewife peel potatoes or sort socks.
I had to think – “no dah.” I recalled the Home where I used to visit a great aunt, whose life had been one of hard work, raising a dozen kids. There she would sit in the kitchen peeling carrots or preparing whatever vegetable that was to be used in a meal – perfectly content. It was something she was used to doing and it kept her occupied as she had been all her life. Why “professionals” seem to think humans enjoy idleness, despite all the evidence to the contrary, is bizarre.
In the end, the operators of that Home were actually criticized for “exploiting” patients in letting them do such things, when the government shut them down. You can imagine how they were vilified in the press. But, the therapy was considered miraculous once the “professionals” finally discovered it.
My great aunt had to be moved to a more “professional” facility – a stark, sterile, cold place full of strangers, far from family. She kept trying to run away, which required drugging her, which meant she died within a matter of just three or four months. No one noticed the tragedy, although “professionals” all profess to be driven by a passionate concern for patients.
There used to be a time when many small rural communities had a doctor and a clinic with a nurse or two. Often, the town folks built the clinics by selling shares to the local citizens, the revenues from which were used to cover the cost of building the clinic. A doctor was then invited to use it in practicing family medicine. The clinic was only meant for everyday maladies or emergencies. Folks traveled to the bigger cities for more serious illnesses or when they needed specialists. It was something that worked for many years. Doctors didn’t get rich, of course; in large part because of regulations that were incrementally piled onto their practice, year after year, which kept the clinics constantly scrambling financially. In the end government bureaucracy succeeded in eliminating almost all of them. Now big corporations are returning to build similar clinics in those same communities, to great accolades as though no solution was ever possible before.
A business in Three Forks used to provide – almost for free – a transportation service to residents to get to Bozeman in medical emergencies. Granted it was no modern day ambulance, but it provided something… and it was a foundation upon which improvements would surely have come. Draconian state regulations quickly discouraged the businessman from providing the service, and left local people with nothing. It was apparently better to transport medical emergency victims to the hospital in the back of pickups rather than an ambulance that didn’t meet “code.” That is what came to be, because a real emergency could not wait for an ambulance to make the round trip from Bozeman and back.
Years ago there was private garbage service in Billings, which city government attempted to eliminate through legislation and a process that was too costly for the private company to fight. Wisely, the owner sold out to a big national corporation, which had the resources to fight city hall, and the city dropped its efforts. Nevertheless, they did succeed in putting a small, locally owned business out of business and there remains little competition.
Gallatin County did much the same to a couple of private garbage services that served the whole Gallatin Valley. The county was more successful at installing a total government monopoly and eliminating private companies, which provided more frequent pickups at less cost. This story undoubtedly has been repeated many times over, in one way or another, across the country.
A similar scenario unfolded in Billings around the private fire-fighting service of O’Donnell. The way that O’Donnell conducted their business, providing it only for paying subscribers, is little different from how government-run services now operate, but O’Donnell had to go. Municipalities do not like to be shown up by the rigorous restraints of the market and inventiveness of competition.
As to education! Such a no-brainer. Historically, in neither the Constitution nor any early day laws was it dictated that government provide education. It was the private sector that led the way. Communities, families and private non-profits so valued education that they began their own solutions – voluntarily and locally. So much so, that it was this movement that revolutionized the way the whole world came to look at education.
Prior to the establishment of education in the New World, peasants and peons throughout history and throughout the world were never considered worthy of education by governments and the elites. Even women of wealth and standing were denied or discouraged from education. It was not government or some social progressive movement that changed that perspective – it was the market demand of families and grassroot Americans. Private education and non-profit organizations providing schools were an emerging industry that, like so many others, was largely usurped through the coercive power of government.
The cost of education – at every level – would be considerably less with greater competition. Even public schools would get better and do so at less cost it they had to compete. Sadly, that’s an elixir that only those who have experienced competition believe – and competition, except in scrambling for public money, has never been experienced by anyone in the public education system.
Anytime any product or service seems to be outrageously priced, look closely. There is little doubt that in some manner it is a government-protected monopoly or it is the government, having used its power to eliminate private sector competition. The inclination of markets is always to drive down prices while improving products and increasing choice. The inclination of government is to use its power to eliminate all market threats. And, in the end, that matters.