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Saturday, April 7, 2012

Economics of Love

Barry, My Liege:

Since you are the world's most famous living economist, you know that traditional economic theory is based on the concept of 'homo economicus', or economic man. In short, economics bases all its theories and predictions on the idea that everyone carries a calculator in their brain which is constantly deciding whether any action's expected benefits outweigh its costs.

You and I know that's a crock, but it is still the basis of economic decision and policy making today.

But, that idea goes a long way toward explaining why our current economy has abandoned a large portion of our population. Roughly 15% of our population - the real unemployment rate - has lost hope that they will do better in the future or that they will enjoy a comfortable life free from crippling fear and worry about financial issues. They can be called the 'excluded'. It is worse in Europe and simply unimaginable in the poorer countries of Africa and Asia.

While there are several intriguing alternative economic theories under active discussion today, none of them actively addresses the needs of the 'excluded'.

Just because a portion of the population is unable to secure its basic needs from our economic system does not mean that those needs disappear. The needs are still there. Health care, medication, food, shelter and clothing are all needs which some portion of our population cannot access.

Unless those needs are met somehow, the proportion of the population excluded from the system may increase to the point that the system itself is threatened.

As an example of unmet needs, take a look at healthcare. Under our current system, healthcare is largely financed by for-profit insurance companies. These companies have an incentive to deny treatment to sick people or to deny coverage to sick people trying to buy insurance. Their profits increase when they don't pay claims.

Under the most optimistic of assumptions, your current proposal of mandating insurance coverage may provide health care to some portion of the excluded, but it is unlikely that it will cover all people. Covering all people would require a single payer system and our political system is unlikely to allow that.

The Economics of Love would create health clinics staffed entirely by volunteers and available to all comers without any cost. Such a clinic would provide health care outside of the current economic system to those people who are already outside.

The incentive for health care professionals to volunteer in such a clinic is the ability to show their love to many sick people by providing their services. Of course, such a system requires that the health care volunteers donate only a portion of their time since they need to receive a paycheck from some other position to provide for their families.

The wealth created would be the huge satisfaction of helping real people with real needs.

For example, a practicing dentist, physician or nurse could devote four hours per week to providing free care. That's about 10% of a 40 hour week. With ten such dentists, each of whom provides four hours per week, the clinic could treat hundreds of people. Or, some might choose to volunteer the time they have free from their part time job.

In our climate of need many health care professionals will be willing to devote a portion of their time to helping the less fortunate. It requires some organization; but, there are many highly qualified people in the excluded who will be willing to help organize such a venture.

Other needs such as office space, insurance and supplies can be met with donations from civic minded suppliers. For those items which require cash payment, surely some charities can be located to fund a specific part of the clinic.

It is a simple matter to form a 501(c)3; that would enable any donors to take a tax deduction for their donation.

My Liege, since we have a system that excludes a significant share of the population, we need to find mechanisms outside of the system to address the needs of the unfortunate.

The Economics of Love does that - the free market does not.

Your faithful servant,

4 comments:

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