Conservatives shouldn’t refer to “rationing” health care

Much commentary from the right on health care uses the term “rationing,” such as a recent piece by Wesley Smith in National Review Online.  Please indulge our minor quibble with the term “rationing,” because rationing supply and demand of goods for which we would like all an unlimited amount, such as health care, is exactly what markets are for.

Health care will be rationed by one mechanism or another.  Conservatives should cast the debate as rationing via market mechanisms versus rationing by government bureaucrats (sorry, “experts”), who, as Smith points out, are subject to all sorts of perverse incentives.  People who understand markets comprehend that, even were bureaucrats completely benevolent and possessing as much information as humanly possible, they could not ration health care (or any other good) to maximize welfare as well as the market could.

Perhaps when conservatives use the term, they merely are applying short-hand for the concept of “rationing by bureaucratic fiat” or rationing by non-market mechanisms in general.  But this does a disservice to the audience’s understanding of the free market:  we should make it clear that we are talking not about rationing as what markets do by definition, but rather by something akin to central planning.

I propose the use of more descriptive terms, such as “politicization of health care provision” or “death panels.”

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