An old but stubbornly funny yarn showcases the contrasting attitudes of private and public enterprise. A shopper purchases a gift a few days before Christmas in an overcrowded downtown store. “Wow, it’s a madhouse in here,” he remarks to the clerk. “Yeah, it’s our best day of the year.” The shopper walks across the street into the post office and finds a similarly chaotic scene. “Wow, that line is a mile long,” he observes to the clerk. “Yeah, it’s our worst day of the year.”
One needn’t wait until Christmas to discover the fundamental truth of this tale. Just compare the facial expressions of the people waiting for freebies at the local Social Security Administration building with the people in line to give their cash to Best Buy.
On Black Friday, Walmart wants its stores packed like a mosh pit. On the following day—surely it will be a Black Saturday at the White House if the revamped health care website hiccups—the president wants a manageable, mild, modest number of Americans to visit healthcare.gov.
If less than one-tenth of one percent of the American people visits the site at any given time, the administration fears more error messages will appear. Too many customers will crash the site. Too few will crash the entire program. The administration wants Healthcare.gov sparsely populated, less like a college keg party than a spinster tea party, words I hesitate to use, lest actual Tea Partiers reading this crash the party—and the website.
Liberals’ fantasy once envisioned millions of Americans signing up in unison for government health care. That’s now their nightmare. It’s mine, too.
Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year have a way of making us reflect on the year and ourselves in a way that Black Friday does not. The juxtaposition of the busiest shopping day of the year with perhaps the most crucial day of the Obama presidency highlights why America, long before the current occupant of the Oval Office swore his oath, should have left health care to the private sector.
Amazon.com doesn’t force anybody to visit its website. You will be neither fined if you don’t nor be subsidized if you do. Its Christmastime success depends on the voluntary choices of consumers.
Obamacare levies financial penalties against those who eschew the product it peddles. It promises free money to the poor, the sick, and the old. Still, consumers avoid it like the plague, a slightly less menacing scourge to public health than socialism.
Black Friday conjures up images of infinite queues and battle royals over the last Cabbage Patch Kid. Black Saturday, despite occurring in the virtual world of the web, evokes an entirely different scene: Americans trampling over one another to escape the government’s “marketplace.” That’s the difference between .com and .gov.
Unfortunately, that’s not the only difference. When the shopkeeper makes a Joe Isuzu-claim, the law keeps him in check. When the president does—“If you’ve got a health care plan that you like, you can keep it”—no truth-in-advertising edict applies. There’s no redress, only distress. Consumer fraud isn’t when the law’s enforcers become its transgressors. L’État, c’est moi.
For the same reason the government uproots monopoly in the private sector, Americans should be weary of monopoly in the public sector. The government—the postal service, Department of Motor Vehicles, etc.—thrives on monopoly. How long would a business stay in business by employing people with customer service skills akin to those of that grim bureaucrat in the DMV window? Though Obamacare isn’t exactly single payer, the micromanaging regulations imposed on insurance companies suggest a movement in that direction. Monopoly disincentivizes efficiency and arrogantly offers one-size-fits all (e.g., maternity care for senior citizens). Competition rewards efficiency and variety. Banana Republic may not appreciate the existence of American Eagle. But mall goers, who benefit from the lower prices and better products unleashed by merchants competing for their dollars, do.
On the day after Thanksgiving, give thanks that you’re buying your Christmas presents from Jeff Bezos and not Barack Obama. Otherwise, your kids would be opening up their gifts on St. Patrick’s Day.