Grocery stores are an example, for the most part, of the free-market system at work. If I want to shop for groceries, I have the choice of Wal-mart, King Sooper’s, Safeway, Target (the Super ones), or Albertsons. In my 8 or 9 years of grocery shopping, food costs have not gone out of control. They have increased, but they seem to follow inflation somewhat. I don’t know the stats, but that’s my experience. I think most people agree that they would rather have private grocery stores provide food as opposed to a central government office. Long food lines as seen in the Soviet Union show the results of a planned economy.
However, even if the free market provides lower prices and more options, there will still be some people who simply can’t afford food. However, there are programs to address this, such as WIC and food stamps. In a way, this can be seen as a compromise or best of both worlds; the free-market system is allowed to work to produce low prices and high quality, but certain programs are in place to ensure that people get to eat. I’m not saying the current system is perfect; people still have it rough, but there is not a large amount of the population starving.
What we don’t do is totally revamp the way grocery stores are operated and have the government run them so that everyone can eat. However, this is what we want to do with health care. Now, I can understand why we treat health care differently. Health insurance premiums have been sky-rocketing for some time. However, the medical and insurance companies are already some of the most regulated industries in the country, so it seems unfair to blame failures on the free market when that particular part of the market is not that free.
Now, I know many liberals will think this is a convenient argument, “if only the market were more free, then everything would be alright.” But so is the argument “if only government would do more, if only there was more funding.” So what do we do? Well, let’s look at the pattern of other industries and other government departments. For instance, with public schools, we spend more and more per pupil, yet see diminishing returns. Meanwhile, people are gobbling up the chance at Charter Schools, schools that are still publicly funded yet offer parents some choice, mimicing the market to some extent. The service, even at Wal-Mart, is far superior to the DMV. I’ve never spent an hour at Wal-Mart waiting in line. If I don’t like my experience at Wal-Mart, I can go somewhere else. Wal-Mart is open on weekends. The DMV, on the other hand, has no motivation to help me out. Sometimes they are only open four days in the week; why stay open five, am I going to go to another DMV? Other areas of technology have brought us rapidly improving products at dramatically lower prices; your iPod has much more hard drive space than many earlier computers the size of your bedroom.
My point is, in many areas of the free market, we see improving quality at lower prices (there are exceptions, such as oil, but a limited good will have a high price in any system). The ones that are heavily regulated and/or funded, such as our school system and health care, we see higher and higher prices for diminishing returns. Furthermore, the lowest employee at the DMV holds way more power over my life than anyone I will meet at the grocery store.