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    You really shouldn’t have

    Is there any topic a true classical liberal/libertarian can’t use as a point of departure for criticizing centralized government control? Of course not! Virginia Postrel has posted at both Dynamist.com and Deep Glamour about the problem of figuring out which present would best suit each person on your list, even those you know intimately. In the Dynamist post, she ends this way:

    The problem of buying good presents for other people, even people you supposedly know well, illustrates that old familiar Hayekian concept, the knowledge problem. If you can’t even give your loved ones the right presents, how likely is it that a central authority could make the right decisions for everyone?

    That’s especially true of goods such as health care, in connection with which the criteria for satisfaction vary so widely from person to person. Some people go to the doctor for every case of the sniffles. Others get a general physical every year, see the dentist whenever prompted by a reminder card, and otherwise don’t bother with doctors. Still others never see the inside of a doctor’s office unless a limb is turning blue and hanging at a strange angle.

    None of those practices is the correct one in any objective sense; people make their own trade-offs based on expense, time, peace of mind, and what they know of their own constitutions. People can also be more or less picky about what they eat, how they dress, and where they live based on similar criteria, and we let them. Health care is an industry with a long and deep history of quackery and fraud, so legal standards for minimum quality make sense. One of the government’s primary functions is protecting citizens from threats, including those from other citizens. But the idea that any policy program dictated from on high is going to help improve health care for a country of 300 million vociferously free people is highly suspect. As with a present that suits the giver’s tastes and not yours, it implies that you need to be told what you ought to prefer. Thankfully, while it would be rude to tell Grandma you don’t care for the wool socks she put under the tree for you, you can still tell your elected representatives that you don’t care to be told what your health-care priorities are.

    Added on 2 December: Thanks to Eric for the link. Glad I was able to help him get into the Christmas spirit.

    One Response to “You really shouldn’t have”

    1. Eric Scheie says:

      Christmas spirit? I’ll open a bottle in your honor, Sean!

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