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Nothing starts a fistfight like the health-care debate. The market for what is just a basic service has been contorted and mangled by government intervention for more than a century. The average person wouldn’t know a free-market health care system if they saw one.

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“Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” must include health care, say those on the political left. The alternative is barbaric, they claim. Never mind that someone else’s rights must be trampled upon in order to provide the “right” of health care. And never mind that the results will be seriously degraded for everyone but the elite.

But the political right is just as clueless. Who can forget the Tea Party member who protested loudly, “Keep your government hands off my Medicare!”

Health care is a political flash point for a very simple reason. As John C. Goodman points out in his monumental new book Priceless: Curing the Health Care Crisis, many people are opposed to the very idea of using the price system to allocate medical care. That’s the fundamental point that one hardly ever hears.

Medical care is a scarce good. It must either be allocated by force or voluntarily at a cost of either time or money or both. With the Supreme Court either striking down Obamacare, or not, or something in between, the Independent Institute research fellow focuses on the here and now and the immediate future. The author’s focus is what we pay in time versus money for our health care — and how that denies access for millions of people.

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Whether you have paid close attention to the health care debate or not, you owe it to yourself to get this book and absorb its lessons. It clears away the fog of confusion, cuts through the political thicket, and gets to the heart of the economic issue. It deals with economic reality in a way that no other source does and thereby fundamentally changes the terms of debate.

This is more than a policy paper. Goodman has a firm grasp on the deep history of intervention to highlight the American Medical Association-funded Flexner Report of 1910, whereby the medical establishment gained the power to control the supply of doctors by regulating medical school admissions. At the same time, “The hospitals themselves also adopted a code of ethics that saw price cutting, quality competition, and quality comparisons as violations of professional ethics,” explains Goodman.

Even that early, the AMA ensured there would never be a glut of doctors. For Americans who think their health care system is just a little left of laissez faire, this will all come as a big surprise.

“Although many would like to think that our system is very different from the national health insurance schemes of other countries, the truth is that Americans mainly pay for care the same way people all over the developed world pay for care at the time they receive it — with time, not money.”

Those who advocate for universal health care believe we all have the same amount of time, and that those with more money have an unfair advantage in the race for health care, as if there is only so much to go around. Having us all wait for hours in doctors’ offices and hospitals is their egalitarian utopia.

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The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by

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