My colleague Alex Berezow at the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) has a skill for writing efficiently about complex issues like COVID-19 and health care. In one of his latest posts at ACSH he points out the deep flaw in the notion of “universal health care” in a way that, with some minor edits, could be repurposed to criticize the notion of “housing as a human right.” Simply put, when anything is made universal it almost certainly isn’t unless there is an absolute equilibrium between supply and demand, a state that never exists permanently in nature or by fiat.
Berezow is stuck in Poland with his family because of travel restrictions, and when his young child became ill, he had to seek health care. After a fine experience with a private physician Berezow took his child to one of the providers giving “universal access” to follow up the child’s illness. It was a terrible experience with a misdiagnosis and a bizarre excuse for not administering a needed vaccine. Berezow’s last paragraph sums it up (links are Berezow’s):
“Polish doctors are overworked and underpaid, which is why there is a shortage of specialists in the country. (The shortage is particularly acute for pediatricians, anesthesiologists, and surgeons.) Many doctors leave for other EU countries. Some of those who stay behind will accept payments under the table in exchange for faster, better treatment. This former socialist nation is now capitalist, after all.”
What happens when we have “universal housing” in the United States when socialists stoking the collapse of the rental housing market get their way? Exactly the same state of affairs Berezow describes in Polish health care: few providers and a black market in housing for people who are waiting for “universal” housing being rationed by the state.
The price system rations too, but it does so impersonally. However, when prices “skyrocket” the message is clear, supply is not keeping up with demand. Whether this is the case in a market in economy or a socialist paradise, the result is that people with less money see their ability to buy necessities hurt the worst. An an economy where housing supply is suppressed by local officials worried about a new building blocking the view of the sky or greedy developers making a profit, prices will, indeed, skyrocket. The solution? Allow more production.
But in the United States the answer is fast becoming the same trope perviously reserved for health services, make it a “human right,” as if declaring it so would bend the simple laws of economics. This is the appeal of price controls and making everything “a right”, it seems to suspend the operation of reality. But it never does.
The impersonal rationing of the market (which can be addressed with more production) is replaced with bribes and interested parties battling over who gets first in line for health care, education, and, eventually, housing. Don’t like the way the state is handing out your universal access to these things? Complain about it? Looks like you just lost your place in line. That the left is so willing to turn over their lives and needs to the same governments responsible for the deaths of people like George Floyd is not just baffling, it is tragic.