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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Trade and Health Care Costs

I am not what you might call a "free trader," because what usually goes under the name of free trade is really a way of giving advantages to the parties (whether corporations, oligarchies, nations, or private businesses) who already have the greatest financial power. Breaking down "all" trade barriers gives the wealthy an open door to expand their economic power. Theoretically, it opens doors to small businesses, weaker economies, and entrepreneurs to gain access to larger markets, too, but that remains mostly in the realm of possibility when the big players are capable of exploiting the opportunities with greater speed and organizational prowess.

I put "all" in scare quotes above because so-called free trade and so-called free markets are never really free. Deregulation opens up paths of freedom for capital, that is for the financially powerful, but it often keeps up the barriers that would benefit common people. The unseen hand of Adam Smith's market is not strictly pursuing the common good. It is often the unseen hand that writes the fine print in legal documents, adds unrelated earmarks to legislation which benefit a few, holds the cigar and cocktail in the backroom where portentious decisions get made without considering the good of the average person.

Dean Baker calls the bluff of the "free traders" by bringing up health care. He proposes,
Suppose that people in the United States paid twice as much for our cars as people in Canada, Germany, and every other wealthy country. Economists would no doubt be pointing out the enormous amount of waste in the US auto industry. They would insist that we both take advantage of the lower cost cars available elsewhere and take steps to make our own industry more efficient.

For some reason, economists do not have the same attitude towards health care.
He goes on to discuss how the economics of health care is working against the U.S. Too many people in the U.S. operate under the misconception that "America has the best health care system in the world." Obviously the residents of the US have better health care than many places in the world, but the World Health Organization's most recent rankings of the health care systems of the nations of the world places the US at 37th out of 190, barely in the top 20 %. The right-wing free market advocates will pick at the WHO ranking system, pointing out potential problems with the statistics they consider, but taking pot shots does not make the glaring problems go away, especially the growing problems of lack of access.

So paying twice as much for less is not a good deal. If you want to read the rest of Baker's article, you can find it here.

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