LESSONS LEARNED #65: “The only thing the market is inefficient at is funneling money to anti-business politicians.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 12th, 2011

Microsoft Learns the hard way about the Costs of Lobbying

Once upon a time Microsoft had no lobbyists.  Microsoft grew to dominate the PC operating system with no help from the government.  Bill Gates became the richest man in the world with no help from the government.  And how did that go over with the government?  Not well.

Because of complaints by Microsoft’s competitors, the U.S. Justice Department began antitrust proceedings against Microsoft.  The complaint?  Microsoft was giving away something for free that others wanted to sell.  A web browser program.  Internet Explorer (IE), to be specific.  The competitors said that Microsoft had an unfair advantage when they bundled IE with their operating system.  Because why would people pay for something that they can get for free?  Consumers never complained about getting something free.  Just other corporations trying to make consumers pay for something that they could get free from Microsoft.  So the Justice Department went after Microsoft so consumers could no longer get something for free.  In other words, the antitrust case against Microsoft was to raise prices.  Which is kind of the opposite reason for an antitrust case.

Government may not know how to create or expand business activity.  But they sure know how to hurt a business.  Microsoft still bundles IE with their operating system.  But they learned a very important lesson.  And, today, Microsoft spends millions of dollars on lobbyists.  To lobby politicians for nothing in particular.  But to pay tribute.

There was no Health Care Cost Crisis before World War II

Once upon a time people paid their doctor’s bill.  Really.  They’d see their doctors.  The doctor would bill them.  And they would pay.  Of course, that was a long time ago in a mystical place.  The United States.  Before World War II.  Yeah, I know.  Crazy talk.  Paying your doctor’s bill.  But some crazy sons of bitches really did. 

Of course, back then, medicine wasn’t socialized yet.  Market forces controlled medical costs.  How, you may ask?  Simple.  The people ‘buying’ the medical services paid the bill.  Medical services were just another service provided by licensed professionals.  Like a plumber.   And though plumbers are expensive, they are affordable.  Because if they weren’t affordable, there wouldn’t be a market for their plumbing services.  As it was for doctors.  Before World War II.  Doctor services were affordable.  Because if they weren’t, there wouldn’t be a market for their medical services.  And it worked like this until World War II.  When health care became a benefit.  And benefit administrators came between buyers and sellers of medical services.

Let’s do a little experiment.  Let’s say you work for a company that is putting together a company picnic.  The company is paying the tab for all 20 employees attending.  And you get a company credit card to buy the food with no restrictions given.  What are you going to buy?  Hotdogs and hamburgers?  Or filet mignon?  Now, later in the summer, you’re having a family BBQ.  There’ll be 20 people in all.  But this time you’re paying the entire bill.  What are you going to buy?  Hotdogs and hamburgers?  Or filet mignon?  Chances are that you’ll be eating different food at these events.

The Price Mechanism doesn’t work if someone else Pays our Bills

Do you see how having someone else pay for your benefits affects your purchasing decisions?  You’ll be enjoying filet mignon on the company’s dime.  But you’ll be satisfied with hotdogs and hamburgers on your dime.  This is the problem in post World War II health care.  There are no market forces anymore in health care.  Someone else is paying for your benefits.  So you don’t care what the costs are.  So you’ll never object to getting the filet mignon of health care benefits.  Even if you’re a single guy.  And your employer is paying for insurance that includes breast and cervix exams.  If you were paying the full cost of your health insurance bill, though, you probably would not pay for breast and cervix exams.  Sure, they’re nice.  But as a guy you would probably never use these benefits.  So you probably wouldn’t pay for them.

This is a big reason why health care costs are so out of control today.  There are no market forces in play to control costs.  Other people pay for our benefits.  So we never ask, “Can I afford this?”  Which everyone does before hiring a plumber.  Dr. Gratzer, a physician and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, wrote that Americans pay only twelve cents for every dollar of health care services they receive.  Which means 88% of the American health care is already socialized medicine.  In other words, other people pay for 88% of an American’s health care.  And when other people are paying, how often do you ask, “How much does this cost?”

This is why health care costs are out of control.  Elsewhere in the economy prices serve as a mechanism to adjust supply and demand.  Not in health care.  No one knows the prices in health care.  Because no one asks.  And the further we go in this direction the worse it’s going to get.  Yet that is exactly the direction some in government want to take health care.  Why?

Politicians Matter more than the Cost of Health Care

Because the market is efficient.  It works very well when left alone.  Just ask Bill Gates.  Or anyone who saw a doctor before World War II.  The market works.  But it has one drawback.  It doesn’t need government.  And for those who are looking for a career in politics, that’s a problem.

Microsoft wasn’t harming any consumers.  They were hurting other businesses that couldn’t make consumers spend more money.  So the politicians stepped in.  To show they mattered.  And cared.  Also, Microsoft was obscenely wealthy.  A little lobbying on their part could fill a few campaign war chests.  And provide a nice vacation or two.  They just needed to see the light.  How things worked in Washington.

But becoming a senator or a representative needs more than a fat war chest.  You need people to vote for you.  And a good way to do that is to get as many people dependent on government as possible.  Either as patients in a new national health care system.  Or as employees in a vast new bureaucracy for the new national health care system.  Which is why they’re not turning to the free market to fix the cost problems in their health care system.  Like they are in the UK and Canada.  They don’t want to fix the cost problems.  They want the dependency created by a new national health care system.  They can worry about costs later.  After they’ve taken over one-sixth of the U.S. economy.

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