Friday, August 07, 2009

Food Insurance

Suppose there were food insurance. Rather than everyone paying for food with their own money, people would pay a certain fee to their insurance company every month, and in return the insurance company would pay for all your groceries. Sound like a good idea? Perhaps, but what do you suppose would happen if we had this kind of food insurance?

One thing you would expect would be an increase in consumption of food in general, with a more specific increase in more expensive foods. Who can afford a Kobe porterhouse steak with white truffles and saffron La Bonnotte potatoes and Almas Iranian caviar on the side, a Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque Blanc de Blanc to wash it down with, and a Chocopologie by Knipschildt and Kopi Luwak coffee for dessert? But if you’re paying the same whether you get this or a hamburger with fries and a soft drink, why not give the steak dinner a try? As more expensive foodstuffs become popular, cheaper food will become repackaged and given higher prices. Which would you pay more for? A can of green beans or a can of hand-picked, hand-selected haricots verts? The French word for “green beans” just makes you want to spend a few dollars more on it, doesn’t it? Thus, consumers will drive up the overall cost of food. Indeed, it is the consumer who is always responsible for upward pressure on prices. This is kept in check by the fact that consumers have to spend their own, limited funds. Remove that check, and the check on prices will be removed as well.

Naturally, farmers will begin to make huge profits from this increased demand. There will be an expansion of the agricultural sector. More exotic foods will be introduced, and well-known food will, again, be repackaged and sold as more exotic to compete. As demagogues are always on the lookout for situations to exploit, farmers would then be cast as villains unfairly profiting off of the consumer. People do have to eat, after all. How can one profit off of something people need to survive? One could expect several decades of demand that the government do something about food prices.

In the meantime, insurance companies will begin trying to figure out how to cut costs. Premiums will go up, making it harder for poorer people to afford food insurance. The government will likely step in to offer FoodCare and FoodAid for the elderly and the poor. Grocery stores will build up huge bureaucracies to deal with the private and government insurance, driving up prices even more to cover those employees’ wages. Both private and government insurance will try rationing, negotiating prices with stores, and dictating what stores consumers can go to and what those consumers can buy. Demagogues will start complaining about the insurance companies, how they are charging high premiums but not allowing consumers to get what they want.

Eventually, people will begin to think that it’s just awful that anyone has to pay for their own groceries. Stores won’t show prices, and store managers will even act offended if you ask the price of something. As people pay more to the insurance companies but get less than they had been getting (but still far more than before they had insurance, though people will have forgotten what it was like before insurance – such is human memory), they will demand that someone do something about it. And someone will. Regulations on agriculture, grocery stores, and insurance companies will increase – typically exacerbating problems in such a way that the companies can be blamed for the problems to justify more control over these industries – until finally socialized food will be proposed.

And we know what happened when food production and distribution was socialized: long food lines to get your limited rations of limited choices. When there’s even food available, that is.

Now change “food” into “health care,” “grocery stores” into “hospitals,” and “farms” into “pharmaceutical companies.” Now you know why the health care industry is in the situation it is in, and why we have moved more and more toward a socialized health care system in this country. Worse, we know exactly what that will bring us as well. How, then, are we nonetheless moving in that direction?
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