2011's Most Moronic MSM Article 2

We don't need to be universal experts to be good shoppers.

In the first article in this series, we scratched the surface of what we at Scragged have anointed as 2011's Most Moronic MSM Article: "Why health care competition won't work," written by GWU professor Amitai Etzioni.  Prof. Etzioni rolled out a classic elitist-statist argument: ordinary people are not qualified to choose their own medical care because they're just too stupid and ignorant.

Of course, Americans make complex and life-altering decisions all the time; that is the very definition of what freedom and liberty mean.  And while historically it's been hard to get accurate information about the skills of specific doctors or success rates of operations at various hospitals, the Internet is fast addressing this weakness by providing a host of ratings websites and customer-comment forums.

But even if all this information were available, Prof. Etzioni has no confidence in our ability to comprehend it.  With nose high in air, he pontificates:

A recent University of Michigan survey found that less than 50% of patients were able to answer basic questions about their condition, let alone its treatment. A 2004 Institute of Medicine report summarizes the finding of over 300 studies demonstrating that most people do not understand health information that is intended for them.

You know what?  He's absolutely right.  Patients, as a general rule, really don't fully understand either their condition or its treatment, particularly if it's complex.  That's what we have doctors for - duh!

And not just doctors, either.  Do you fully understand the condition of your car the last time you had to take it in for repairs?  Could you prescribe the proper treatment, or implement it yourself?  Of course not - that's why we have mechanics.

In fact, virtually every professional or technical job represents a body of specialized knowledge that we all might need access to, but don't need to personally acquire.  Instead of learning the law, you hire a lawyer when you need one.  Instead of learning nuclear physics, we simply plug in our lamp and trust the nuclear power plant engineers to know what they're doing.  And so on.

Do you know how to make a car?  Of course not, but that stops neither you nor Prof. Etzioni from routinely operating one.  In fact, most everyone reading this article has far more familiarity with the manufacture of new human beings than with manufacturing cars - so why shouldn't you be trusted to make choices about your own body just as with your vehicle?

What Prof. Etzioni has accidentally stumbled over is the concept of the "division of labor" as explained by none other than Adam Smith in his famous example of a pin factory:

To take an example, therefore, from a very trifling manufacture; but one in which the division of labour has been very often taken notice of, the trade of the pin-maker; a workman not educated to this business (which the division of labour has rendered a distinct trade), nor acquainted with the use of the machinery employed in it (to the invention of which the same division of labour has probably given occasion), could scarce, perhaps, with his utmost industry, make one pin in a day, and certainly could not make twenty. But in the way in which this business is now carried on, not only the whole work is a peculiar trade, but it is divided into a number of branches, of which the greater part are likewise peculiar trades. One man draws out the wire, another straights it, a third cuts it, a fourth points it, a fifth grinds it at the top for receiving the head; to make the head requires two or three distinct operations; to put it on, is a peculiar business, to whiten the pins is another; it is even a trade by itself to put them into the paper; and the important business of making a pin is, in this manner, divided into about eighteen distinct operations, which, in some manufactories, are all performed by distinct hands, though in others the same man will sometimes perform two or three of them.

In effect, our modern economy is one giant pin factory.  None of us are remotely capable of doing everything that's involved in our daily lives; we rely on countless millions of other specialized professionals all over the world to bring us our clothes, our food, our entertainment, our homes, and our intellectual nourishment, such as indeed this very periodical you hold in your virtual hands.

If, as Prof. Etzioni would prescribe, Americans weren't allowed to make choices about anything they weren't experts in, we would have virtually no liberty indeed.

Of course, the lack of liberty in medical care is the primary source of our current problems; most of us are stuck with whatever insurance plan our employers choose for us and whatever doctors that plan chooses to cover.  Yet laymen without medical degrees have a long history of making better decisions for their own medical care, or their family's, than the medical establishment; the  story of "Lorenzo's Oil," a treatment for the rare disease Adrenoleukodystrophy discovered by ordinary parents of an unlucky boy who had it, is merely the best known.

Is it possible that ending liberty is Prof. Etzioni's goal?  Actually, no.  The conclusion to his article so totally demolishes the arguments he himself made leading up to it, as to be the final proof of why this is, indeed, 2011's Most Moronic MSM Article.  We'll see why in the final article in this series.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Petrarch or other articles on Economics.
Reader Comments

If the good professor wasn't allowed to do things he wasn't an expert in, he might be able to dress himself - maybe - but he wouldn't be allowed to drive unless he could show expertise behind the wheel, an FIA license perhaps. He couldn't likely do more than eat food prepared for him by professional chefs, or use a word processor unless he could understand the computer code involved, or many other things.

In my experience, some with a PhD's or MD's or some other doctorate seems to think that because of the title they're more qualified at ALL subjects than us mere mortals. Many that I've met know their subject of specialty well, but otherwise don't know anymore about anything else than anyone else does. Sometimes less.

January 12, 2012 2:55 PM

We have a sportcaster in this town who advertisie's himself as
knowing all about sports AND nothing about anything else.....

Honest at least....

January 12, 2012 5:16 PM

@Bob - your sportcaster saying he knows nothing about anything else is an indication of the loss of meaning of our words. He knows how to drive. he knows how to balance a check book. He has lots of knowledge but since that's so natural to him, he doesn't think of those items as knowledge.

But they are. Our language is losing meaning, which is a form of knowledge loss which it's hard to reverse.

January 12, 2012 7:10 PM
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