Tuesday, February 7, 2012
Economics From the Mouths of Babes
Conversation with my niece in the car this morning:
Niece: Aunt Moi, how come health care isn't free in this country?
Moi: How do you mean?
Niece: I mean, millions of people die every year from lack of health insurance. So shouldn't health care be free?
Moi: You mean like millions of people die because they don't get enough to eat? Should we make groceries free, too?
Niece: (Thinks for a second.) Okay, that sounds good.
Moi: And how about shelter? People without a roof over their head are in danger of dying. And clothing. Can't be naked out in the elements.
Niece: Yeah! That's a great idea. Free housing and clothing.
Moi: And vacations.
Niece: Now you're just being silly.
Moi: No I'm not! You try working 40 hours a week, day in day out, without a break. Let me tell you, vacations are very necessary to mental and physical health.
Niece: Okay. Gotcha. Those should be free, too.
Moi: So the only question becomes, who pays the people providing all these free services?
Niece: The government.
Niece: Oh come on, Aunt Moi. You know, taxes.
Moi: Yeah, but, almost everything is free; there is no money.
Niece: Well, the government can just print it and distribute it.
Moi: Okay, but who pays the government to do that? Who pays the printers? And designers? And wrappers? And bank tellers?
Niece: (Getting frustrated.) Okay, okay, I see your point. How about we get rid of money entirely then and trade for everything we need?
Moi: Hmmm . . . not a bad idea, but let me see if I understand you correctly. If I need my teeth cleaned, I go to my dentist and trade him my lawn moving skills. Even-Steven, right?
Moi: But what if my dentist doesn't have a lawn? What if what he really needs is his computer de-bugged?
Niece: Well, then you find someone who knows computers but also needs his lawn mowed, trade him, and he debugs your dentist.
Moi: Wow, sounds like this could get awfully complicated. How are we doing to keep track of it all?
Niece: (Thinking.) I know! How about a system of coupons? Pieces of paper with different values on them that we trade back and forth?
Moi: Great idea! People will work to accumulate as many coupons as possible, so they have enough to trade for a bunch of real stuff. Is that what you mean?
Moi: Just one problem.
Niece: What's that, Aunt Moi?
Moi: Whatever happened to "free?"