Last week a reader at the EconomicPolicyJournal made an insightful comment regarding Noam Chomsky’s charge that, essentially, libertarianism is savage. Chomsky made the claim in the context of this exchange during a Republican debate, in which Ron Paul was asked a hypothetical question regarding healthcare. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer describes a scenario in which a young man chooses to go without insurance and suddenly needs to pay for an expensive procedure, and then asks: “who’s going to pay if he goes into a comma?”
Certain members of the crowd favored letting him die, but Paul gave about as good an answer as could be expected – all things considered – which was that private charities could cover his expenses. And here’s what the commenter, Brian, had to say:
One of the fascinating things you will find when people pose theoretical questions is they will take a situation as it is presently-say atrocious health care costs- and they will say what would a libertarian do for a dying man that has no health insurance?
The problem with that type of question is that it has one foot in the present and one foot in a world that has never existed.
In a libertarian world we would not be in such an atrocious mess to begin with. We would not have to pose the question because quite possibly in a libertarian world there would be reduced costs and real competition free from the influence of the nanny state. Maybe saving your life surgically would be [doable] on a payment plan. Who knows? We have never had a pure form of libertarianism.
These types of questions are confusing. Sometimes you have to stop and break them down to see how masterfully manipulative or down right ridiculous they can be.
Given Paul’s position in the debate it wouldn’t have been productive to criticize the question, or he’d risk looking like Newt Gingrich, who spent as much time bashing moderators and their questions as he did giving answers. But in everyday conversation it’s important to identify such manipulation and not be suckered into debating on these terms.
Given adequate time, a good response would be prefaced with something to the effect that, “you’re assuming in a free society that the healthcare industry would be just as dysfunctional as it is now, in the highly-regulated, bureaucratic system.” Then one could move on to describe how healthcare was provided before the welfare state, and how it could be handled in a free society.