There is an article in the New York Times Magazine by an American expat living in Holland about how having the government take more than half your paycheck isn’t as bad as it seems. It’s a pretty good article, and if America is headed in a more social democratic direction (as I fear we may be) then we would do well to look more towards the sensible policies of some more socially democratic countries, rather than the sort of populist demagoguery that is sometimes popular on the American left.
Anyway, what caught my eye in this piece in particular was the following bit:
The Dutch are free-marketers, but they also have a keen sense of fairness. As Hoogervorst noted, “The average Dutch person finds it completely unacceptable that people with more money would get better health care.” The solution to balancing these opposing tendencies was to have one guaranteed base level of coverage in the new health scheme, to which people can add supplemental coverage that they pay extra for.
Note that the third sentence contradicts the second. The Dutch find it totally unacceptable that the rich should get better health care than everyone else; that’s why they designed their system so that the rich could get better health care than everyone else.
To quote Alec Baldwin’s character from a recent episode of 30 Rock. “Yes, important people get better health care. They also get better restaurant reservations, bigger seats on planes.” To which I might add that they get better police protection, better roads, congressmen are more likely to return their phone calls, and so forth. So yes, the rich have more. Also, there is no tooth fairy. I’m not saying you have to like the fact; but you should probably accept it and plan accordingly.
Nor is it much of an answer to say that we should build a society in which there are no rich people. Whether we’re talking about a socialist paradise like Sweden (where one family controls about a third of GNP) or a socialist distopia like North Korea (where, I hear, Kim Jong Ill manages to do quite well) every society will have its rich and poor, at least in relative terms. The rich you will always have with you. The main difference is that in Sweden (as in the United States) people generally get rich by meeting peoples needs, wants, and whims. In a free society rich people give us computers, cancer treatments, and Harry Potter, in exchange for which they get lots of money. Try and prevent people from attaining riches, and you very quickly find that everyone is having to do without.
This is why, despite all the rhetoric to the contrary, the Dutch have basically decided that it’s okay if people with more money get better health care, so long as everyone gets an adequate amount of it. In doing so they still face a trade off (as the article itself notes), and perhaps a better trade off could be designed. But at least they are going into it with their eyes open.