The Cost of Eliminating Prices
If you’re looking for some worthwhile snowed-in reading, Kevin Williamson’s recent National Review essay, “Priceless Is Worthless,” would be an edifying use of your time. In sum:
… as we continue to pretend that there is another unseen economic reality beyond market prices when it comes to health care, banking, housing, labor, cotton, sugar, fuel-efficient Japanese automobiles, solar panels, and every other product with prices distorted by politics–whose interests do you imagine are being served? Yours, chump?
A timely example:
Health-care prices are a mishmash for lots of reasons, but one of the main ones is the way we pay for health care–you don’t pay the doctor, your insurance company does, an arrangement that gives at least two of the three parties involved a good incentive to obscure prices, so that the consumer has no idea how good or how rotten a deal he is getting while the insurers and hospitals attempt to game and swindle each other. Given the shocking and terrifying size of serious medical bills–my mother’s last stay in the hospital billed out at $360,000 (that’s a Ferrari 612 Scaglietti for Doc X plus a BMW 5-Series for one of his brats)–the American health-care consumer, quaking in his paper hospital slippers, no longer even asks: “What does this procedure cost?” He only asks: “Does my insurance cover it?” No prices, no negotiation, no mystical coordination between producer and consumer–instead, maddening and expensive and often underhanded mediation by the insurer.
Medicine is complicated; computers are complicated, too, but you can call Dell or Apple or Best Buy or whomever and ask: “What does this sort of computer cost?” and you will receive an answer. And then, when you get to the store–miracle of miracles!–that will be the price. Computers are damned complicated to make, with programmers in the United States and India collaborating with Taiwanese microchip fabricators, Dutch LED manufacturers, Irish customer-support agents, etc. You can get a price on an iMac, but you can’t get a price quote on an ingrown toenail.