Imagine a modern, first-world country where there is such a shortage of dental care that patients are reduced to pulling their own rotting teeth. This country is the United Kingdom—where ordinary citizens encounter primitive and barbaric dental care practices and experience nightmarish ordeals.
You’re probably wondering how can this be? Before we explain, please read one Scottish man’s horrifying account of dental care in Scotland.
As you read the horrors that this Scottish citizen is going through, please remember that this is a national phenomenon he is describing. See for example this news account.
The United Kingdom provides public, socialized dental care. Socialized care creates shortages and reduces both quality and the rate of innovation.
One of the most basic principles of economics is that if you reduce the price of an item or service below its market price, a shortage of that item is created. In health care, we see this phenomenon in the emergency rooms of hospitals. It is commonplace for patients who are not paying for their care to show-up in emergency rooms with illnesses that do not require emergency medical attention and frequently do not require any medical attention at all. You can wait a long time in an emergency room—there is a shortage of emergency room services.
In the United Kingdom, teeth are still routinely filled with poisonous mercury amalgams. To a citizen of the United Kingdom, innovations, like laser dentistry or one-step dental implants, would be possible only in a science fiction story.
As I read accounts of United Kingdom dental care, I felt compassion for those who go without basic necessities. Be it food, shelter, or medical care, there are still too many deprivations all over the world.
The economically illiterate believe these deprivations can be solved with more government involvement. As I read accounts of UK citizens queuing-up for substandard dental care, I remembered accounts of citizens in the former Soviet Union queuing-up for substandard food.
I thought of our own socialized educational system. We usually don’t think of it as socialized—instead, we call it public education. But the same principles operate. We pay through the tax system and then, except if you are fortunate enough to have extra income to buy your child private education, you’re forced to use the public school no matter how low the quality is.
Consider inner-city families whose public school doesn’t even provide a basic level of safety for the children. Telling the parents that they should send their children to private schools is an inconceivable possibility.
Similarly, for poor or middle class United Kingdom citizens, private dental care is just not possible. The gentleman whose account you read earlier is clearly thoughtful and caring. I have exchanged views with him on his blog and on my own. Despite all of the suffering that he is experiencing, he still seems to believe that the failures of socialized care are due to to failures in implementation. He does not see that the failure of socialized care is due to a faulty concept.
This is not unlike the former Soviet Union, where the answer to their food problems was always a new five-year plan. It is not unlike the United States, where the answer for the failures of the public schools is always seen to be more money.
In this rush toward socialized services, many imagine that they will get top-notch care while paying less than they do right now. Nothing is further from the truth. For most, the “price” will go up in many ways—new taxes to fund a new healthcare bureaucracy, shortages of services, stagnation of innovation, and reduced quality of care.