At the International Students for Liberty Conference this year, there was an exhibition hall filled with various organizations tabling, just as in years past. I actually discovered BRI by approaching its table at the 2015 ISFLC, back while I was still waiting to find out whether I would be accepted to medical school. The ability to be on the other side of the table just two years later was, if I may be permitted some Trumpian hyperbole, a triumphant moment.
Unlike other tables, our table didn’t have flashy swag to give out. We didn’t have free T-shirts, didn’t have free string bags, and didn’t even have any junk food to attract suitors (perhaps appropriate for a medical organization). Nevertheless, we still got a hearty dose of conference attendees approaching our table. Why was this?
It’s because health care is personal in a way that very few issues are. Unlike many other tables, when people came up to me, I didn’t have to make an elaborate pitch for why they should be interested in our organization. They were interested already. Some had parents who were physicians. Others were concerned about either their own health care, or the health care of people they know.
Health care is the ultimate test of libertarian principles. As Bryan Caplan, economics professor at George Mason University, wrote in a 2012 blog post, we are often asked, “What if a poor person gets sick, doesn’t have insurance, and can’t get friends, family, or charity to pay for treatment?”
It sounds like a tough question, one that often stumps those of us on the free market side of the debate. But Caplan argues that we should retort by asking our own analogous questions, like, “What if Congress passes an unjust law, the President signs it, and the Supreme Court upholds it?” You can replace the word “unjust” with the phrase, “well-intentioned but destructive,” and this question would be directly applicable to Obamacare.
Someone can always come up with imagined nightmare scenarios for any proposed solution. If doctors always had that attitude in regards to medical advances, people would still be dying of smallpox and juvenile diabetes. We have to move beyond this sort of sophistry.
The truth is, free market ideas make the world a better place. Specific free market health care reforms can improve the lives of millions of Americans. It is my sincere hope that conferences like this one will give libertarians the courage to argue for the power, and yes, for the compassion of our ideas.