ECON: Rebuke my TA!

Gregory Sullivan (
Wed, 29 Oct 1997 06:23:30 -0500 (EST)

Geoff Smith ( said:
>In an e-mail conversation with my micro-economics teaching assistant, we
>got onto the subject of the inefficiencies of government as a
>monopolistic firm. ... please help me poke some holes in his argument

There is an article containing criticisms of the Canadian health care
system and other national health care systems at the Cato Institute web
site. Unfortunately, it is from 1992 and thus the illustrative examples
given are rather dated. Yet, when viewed generically the criticisms
presented accurately reflect some prototypical libertarian complaints:

(I am not a libertarian but I think this is the kind of material you were

The one common characteristic of all national health care systems is a
shortage of services. For example, in Great Britain, a country with a
population of only 55 million, more than 800,000 patients are waiting for
surgery.(4) In New Zealand, a country with a population of just 3
million, the surgery waiting list now exceeds 50,000.(5) In Sweden the
wait for heart x-rays is more than 11 months. Heart surgery can take an
additional 8 months.(6) In Canada the wait for hip replacement surgery is
nearly 10 months; for a mammogram, 2.5 months; for a pap smear, 5
months.(7) Surgeons in Canada report that, for heart patients, the danger
of dying on the waiting list now exceeds the danger of dying on the
operating table.(8) According to Alice Baumgart, president of the
Canadian Nurses Association, emergency rooms are so overcrowded that
patients awaiting treatment frequently line the corridors.(9)


Sometimes the rationing of care is even more explicit: care is denied the
elderly or patients whose prognosis is poor. In Britain kidney dialysis
is generally denied patients over the age of 55. At least 1,500 Britons
die each year because of lack of dialysis.(10)

Countries with national health care systems also lag far behind the United
States in the availability of modern medical technology. It is well
documented that in Canada, high-technology medicine is so rare as to be
virtually un- available.(11) That comparison holds for other countries as
well. Advanced medical technology is far more available in the United
States than in any other nation.(12)

(Footnote 11) For example, Canada has only 12 magnetic resonance imaging
units, compared to more than 900 in the United States. There are 2.5
times as many CAT scanners in Seattle as in the entire province of British
Columbia. Canada has only 11 open-heart surgery centers, compared to 783
in the United States. The United States has six times as many lithotripsy
units as Canada. United States vs. Canadian Health Care: An Information
Package (Washington: National Committee for Quality Health Care, March

<Note, this information is from 1990>