Sunday, December 27, 2009

The adolescent anti-business mindset

Health insurance companies may not always act as we would wish, especially since we expect them to function not as actual insurance but as automatic deep pockets for ongoing, foreseeable medical consumption. But to interpret their behavior exclusively as a function of the profit motive is absurd when they operate in a market distorted by government mandates on coverage and limits on where and how they can operate, mandates that are only going to become more complex under the new bills. And whether health care is backstopped by insurance companies or the government will not make a huge difference in the looming question of how society as a whole will pay for ever more complex and costly procedures to prolong human existence past its natural shelf life.

Businesses make negligent as well as reckless mistakes, and irrationality takes as large a toll on economic behavior as on other forms of behavior. Some owners and employees are crooks. I know of no evidence that the scoundrel factor is higher in business than in politics or the non-profit sector, however. Government regulation of business is inevitable; externalities like pollution and noise cannot easily be reduced to optimal levels through market exchange. But let regulation be done with trepidation and humility, in recognition of our ignorance of the myriad factors that go into vibrant economic life. Is it too much to hope that even if most elected bodies are immaculately free of anyone who has owned a business, that some small portion of the political class try hard to imagine the difficulty of charting future growth and hiring with no idea what tax levels or regulatory mandates will be in coming years, much less the difficulty of operating under a burdensome regime of existing taxes and regulations?

It is the ingratitude that kills me the most among anti-business types. The materials that furnish a single room in an American home required daring, perseverance, and organizational skill from millions of individuals over generations. I hope they all got filthy rich.