Recently I’ve been getting into more arguments with libertarians. One of the things that’s been striking about these arguments is that is for all their talk about how Obama is socializing healthcare, libertarians rarely bring up one of the biggest, most coercive government interventions into the market: requiring that doctors be licensed and banning other medical practitioners from performing their work. So the last time I tangled with a libertarian who was a big fan of Ron Paul I asked them, what does the good doctor say about the government violence-backed monopoly that physicians have? He didn’t know, so I decided to take a look online.
On Dr. Ron Paul’s 2012 campaign website, his message on health care is simple:
FREEDOM NOT FORCE
The answer to our nation’s health care crisis lies in freedom – not force.
As President, Ron Paul will fight to put you back in control of your health care decisions, save you money on medical expenses, and institute reforms that will once again make America’s health care system the standard for other nations to follow.
OK, I thought. That sure sounds like a call to end the government monopoly of requiring everyone who’s a doctor to be licensed by the state – and of prohibiting nurses, PA’s, etc. from doing the work that doctors do.
Ron Paul M.D. has a very long laundry list of ways to put you back in control and save you money. For example:
* Allow purchase of health insurance across state lines…
* Ensure that those harmed during medical treatment receive fair compensation while reducing the burden of costly malpractice litigation on the health care system by providing a tax credit for “negative outcomes” insurance purchased before medical treatment.…
* Stop the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) from interfering with Americans’ knowledge of and access to dietary supplements and alternative treatments.
* Prevent federal bureaucrats from tracking every citizen’s medical history from cradle to grave by prohibiting the use of taxpayer funds for a national database of personal health information.
But getting rid of doctors’ government-imposed, violence-backed monopoly? Not a word.
How about his son, Dr. Rand Paul? Same deal. In fact the only place where the issue of medical certification came up was back in during his 2010 campaign, when Rand Paul was accused of being misleading about his medical certification status.
The Louisville Courier-Journal reports that Paul, an eye surgeon, has claimed to be board-certified in ophthalmology but that “the national clearinghouse for such certifications says he hasn’t been for the past five years.”
Paul has said he holds certification from the National Board of Ophthalmology (NBO), a group he incorporated and currently heads. But the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) doesn’t recognize certifications from Paul’s organization, according to the Courier-Journal.
Paul said he passed his board exam in 1995 on the first try. He then founded NBO because ABO decided to grandfather the certifications of older ophthalmologists, thereby exempting them from having to get recertified. Meanwhile, younger ophthalmologists would need to continue getting recertified regularly.
“This is the kind of hypocritical power play that I despise and have always fought against,” he said.
He also pointed out that he was certified by the state of Kentucky, which was the only licensee needed in order to practice.
You’d think that if Dr. Rand Paul didn’t believe in massive government intervention in the healthcare market, this would have been the perfect time to come out swinging against doctors’ government-imposed monopoly. Instead, he insisted that he was obediently following this monopolistic practice.
What’s particularly striking about the Drs. Paul is that there’s a pretty strong libertarian argument to be made against granting physicians a government monopoly. The history of US medicine is pretty clear: the AMA spent decades using government power to squelch competition from homeopathy and other alternatives to standard Western medicine – even during the earlier years, when Western doctors didn’t have any real evidence proving they were right. And today a libertarian could easily argue that given the Internet & social networking, there’s no reason patients need Big Brother to tell them which medical practitioner cuts the mustard. If an individual thought having a doctor who was certified was a good thing, they could certainly make that decision by themselves. If not, why shouldn’t they have that choice? Freedom, Not Force!
Mind you, I’m not arguing that we should do this. But I’m not a libertarian.
In sum: two of the most prominent libertarian politicians, who believe we should use the government to protect the poor, fight against inequality, or buffer our citizens from the harshness of the market because the power of market competition will take care of virtually all of our problems, have no problem with a government-backed monopoly for doctors. And, oh yeah, they are both doctors. I can’t think of a better metaphor for what conservatives really believe about government.