Thomas Sowell
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Editor’s note: This article is Part II in a series. Click here to read Part I.

A few weeks ago, I had what seemed to me a small medical problem, so I phoned my primary physician. However, after we discussed the problem, he directed me to a specialist.

After the specialist examined me, he directed me to a different specialist elsewhere. When I was examined and tested in the second specialist's office, he immediately phoned a hospital, asking to have an operating room available in an hour.

No more than 5 hours elapsed between my seeing the first specialist and the time when I was on an operating table.

This was quite a contrast with what happens in countries with government-run medical systems. In such countries, it is not uncommon to have to wait days to see a physician, weeks to see a specialist and months before you can have an operation. It is very doubtful whether I would have lasted that long.

In the intensive care unit, where I was sent after the first of two operations, I was hooked up to high-tech machines and had a small army of people looking after me around the clock. Would a government-run medical system have provided all this, especially for a man in his eighties?

In some countries with government-run medical systems, individuals are not even permitted to pay out of their own pockets for medications that the government has ruled are too expensive for people in their age bracket or medical condition.

That same mindset has already become evident in the United States, where a very expensive cancer drug has been refused federal approval to be sold, because it helps only a limited number of people and at very high costs.

But what if you are one of those limited numbers of people -- and you are willing to pay what it costs, with your own money?

You are free to take your life's savings and gamble it away in a casino, if you want to -- but you are not free to use your life's savings to save your life.

This is not an isolated paradox. This is the logical consequence of a vision of the world that prevails all too widely among the intelligentsia, and not just as regards medical care.

In that vision, people can draw on the available resources only to the extent that the government considers appropriate, in the light of other claims on those resources. This treats what the people have produced as if it automatically belongs to the government -- and as if politicians and bureaucrats have both the right and the wisdom to override the personal decisions that the people want to make for themselves.

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Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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