May 6, 2010 9:06PM

What Do The Economist’s Bloggers Think a Free Market Is, Anyway?

A correspondent for The Economist, whose initials are M.S., posts this on the Democracy in America blog:

[T]he new health‐​care‐​reform law passed in March is an entirely private‐​insurer, free‐​market‐​based reform. If someone were to refer to it as a “government takeover of the health‐​care sector”, that person would hold a factually incorrect ideological belief.

I wonder what convinced M.S. that the new health care law is an entirely free‐​market‐​based reform. Was it the expansion of the government’s Medicaid program to another 16 million Americans? Was it the 19‐​million‐​plus other Americans who will receive government subsidies to purchase private health insurance? Was it the new price controls that the law imposes on health insurance? Or the price and exchange controls that it will extend to even more of the market? Was it the dynamics those regulations set in motion, which will reduce variety and innovation in health insurance? Was it the mandates that require private actors to spend their resources according to the wishes of the state? Or the new federal regulations that will shape every health insurance plan in the United States, whether purchased through the employer‐​based market, the individual market, or the new health insurance “exchanges”? Was it the half‐​trillion dollars of (explicit) tax increases over the next 10 years? 

I wonder what it is about this law that M.S. thinks is consonant with the principles of a free market. Perhaps we have a different idea of what “free” means.

M.S. lists other “factually incorrect beliefs,” including:

that the Clinton plan would deny patients their choice of doctor, and that the health‐​care‐​reform bills in Congress at the time involved government “death panels” that could decide to withhold care from elderly patients on a cost‐​benefit basis.

I won’t dredge up the Clinton health plan. But I have previously demonstrated that, when Sarah Palin claimed that President Obama wanted to give a government panel the power to deny medical care to the elderly and disabled based on cost‐​effectiveness criteria, the president had in fact proposed a panel with the power to do exactly that.

I agree with M.S. about this much: “once people are exposed to false information, it’s extremely difficult to convince them it’s false.”