It was an odd moment in the first debate. President Obama was talking about health care, and looked the American people right in the eye and told them that the profits of the health-insurance industry were driving up the cost of health care.
The implication was clear: If only we could get rid of all of those profits from all of those greedy companies, all those fat-cat executive salaries, and the infrastructure that supports the pursuit of profits in each of the private-insurance companies in America — including those expensive commercials — health care would be much more efficient. And much cheaper.
That’s right, folks. Our president actually believes that profits increase the cost of goods and services in this country. And decrease efficiency.
It isn’t just our president who harbors such strange notions. Walk down the hallways of academia and Congress and you’ll hear similar strains from the anti-profit pulpit. The “P” word comes out the mouths of most leftists and redistributionists as if it were a curse word. Or a disease.
Indeed, it is usually preceded by qualifiers such as “windfall” or “excess” or “unreasonable.” “Unreasonable profits,” you might be wondering if you own a small business: Is there such a thing? And how can reasonable people come up with such ideas?
It all started back when Kark Marx coined the term “surplus value” to describe profits. That’s what profits were to Marx, a surplus that belonged to someone else besides the actual business owner. That was his contribution to modern economic life.
The great Irish playwright and socialist George Bernard Shaw came up with a much niftier term to describe profit a few decades later; he called it “the overcharge.”
In the minds of many intellectuals and some politicians, profits are charges added to the real costs of production. The dream of many utopian socialists is to get rid of all of those private businesses, and have the government run them without all of that profit-taking by capitalists, passing along the savings to the workers and consumers.
Cut those greedy profit-seekers out of the equation, goes the logic. What do they do anyway?
But does our own president really think he can make our health-care system cheaper and more efficient by squeezing out the profits of private insurers?
A thought experiment: I want to transport President Obama’s logic about profits and efficiencies in health care to . . . potato chips.
Take a walk down the potato-chip aisle of any major supermarket. There, for all to see, is the miracle of modern free enterprise. There, dozens of brands boldly compete for customers. Choices, choices, and more choices, and all available for just a few bucks: Herr’s and Lay’s and Pringles and Kettle and Mrs. Vickers and Ruffles and Fritos and Old Vienna and Dirty Chips and Sun and Cape Cod and Jays and Tyrells and Wise and Zappo and North Fork, to name just a few brands. (And then there are the choices within the brands. Pringles alone has more potato-chip options than any one person can conjure: There’s the Original, Sour Cream and Onion, Cheddar Cheese, Barbeque, Jalapeno, Pizza, Ranch, Loaded Baked Potato, Salt and Vinegar, Honey Mustard, Blastin’ Buffalo Wings, and my personal favorite, Screamin’ Dill Pickle.) They are all shouting out to the customer: Pick me!
“All of that waste,” President Obama must be thinking as he walks down the aisle! “Ah, the efficiencies our government could bring to the potato-chip lovers of this world if only all of these businesses would get out of the way.”