Appreciating the Market

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Mar 30, 2010    •    772 Views

In a recent WSJ interview, Nobel laureate Gary Becker tells us that, “Markets are tough to appreciate.” The reason, he says, is people feel government can better care for them than a profit seeking individual. Calling markets counterintuitive, Becker sees why people question the benefits of a system that seems to harm the unfortunate. For him though, the key is economic growth which only a market can create.  

Becker also comments on the cost of health care. Implying that incentives rather than government provide the solution for cutting health care costs, he compares health care spending in Switzerland and the United States. Yes, the Swiss spend close to 11% of GDP on health care and we spend approximately 17%. However, for him, insight comes from asking who does the spending. In Switzerland, 31% of the total is from individuals;  for us, only 12% of total health care spending is an “out-of-pocket” expense. 

Hearing Gary Becker’s ideas reminds me of a quote from William Bradford about Plymouth Plantation in 1623: “So they began to think how they…could…obtain a better crop than they had done…At length…the Governor…so assigned to every family a parcel of land…This had very good success, for it made all hand very industrious…”

The Economic Lesson

Whether your bias is more government or less, still we always can conclude that the incentives created by a decision will determine its outcome.

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