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Rent Seeking and Our Health-Care System

Posted Oct 03 2009 10:00pm

Does our health-care system (including researchers) engage in rent-seeking when they ignore simple cheap remedies, including prevention?

Here’s a simple example of rent-seeking. Some friends and I went to visit the Great Wall. On the path up to the wall was a man sitting in a chair. He demanded 30 cents to let us pass. There was no gate. He wasn’t a government official — just a man and a chair. There was a path to a goal. It was blocked unless we paid.

In the case of health there are many paths to the goal. Many ways to become healthier — many ways to relieve depression, for example. Prevention is one way, cure another. There are cheap cures and expensive cures. By ignoring prevention and cheap cures, the profession of psychiatry is  blocking those paths (by failing to clear them) and thereby forcing us to take their expensive path (dangerous drugs), usage of which they control. It’s more subtle than the man with the chair but it amounts to the same thing.

Rent-seeking is annoying. I was annoyed by the man in the chair. The rent-seeking of our health-care system is disguised, not easy to make out. This makes it less of problem for health-care professionals, such as doctors; I think few people are aware of it. (For example, most people with acne don’t realize it is probably caused by their food.) But my friend with depression was annoyed, deeply annoyed, when he learned of a simple cheap (partial) solution to his problem.

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