What Are We Paying For?
What Are We Paying For?
Whenever a major disaster of any nature affects any portion of the population, the inevitable topic of price gouging comes up. Basic rules of economics do apply. Scarcity creates price increases, and increased demand that exceeds available supply will inevitably result in higher prices. It’s normal. Suppliers put in extra effort to meet demand, and that extra effort costs money. Dr. Walter Williams wrote in 2004 that windfall profits are motivators, that they signal there are unmet human wants, leading people to strive to meet those wants. It stimulates the supply response to a disaster, and yes, that supply costs.
Imagine for a moment that prices aren’t allowed to rise. Would it be reasonable for anyone to expect workmen to give up their nights and weekends and drive hundreds of miles to Virginia to remove trees from people’s houses? Yes, there would be some motivated by charitable instincts, but I’d hate to count on charitable instincts as the major source of help. If, as the Virginia Senate has decreed, prices are not allowed to rise in the wake of a disaster, lest they risk being deemed unconscionable, pray tell me what will produce the incentive for people to travel long distances, work overtime and make other personal sacrifices to provide goods and services to Virginians?
There was a photo on my social media feed this morning, showing a guy offering to come rescue people in Houston with his little boat for $200 per person and $100 per pet. While windfall profits are motivators for this guy to opportunistically offer to skin people who may have lost everything in a natural disaster of their last remaining assets, he’s well within his right to do this. Some people are jerks. You can’t get around that fact. Some people wouldn’t lift a finger to help their fellow human beings without there being some strong financial motivation to do so. They’re exploitative cockroaches, who show us the worst humanity has to offer. But not everyone can be a charitable giver, and this guy – as much as I’d like to smash his face in with a chair – has every right to be a purulent turd.
In a similar vein, a story popped up in my feed this morning describing a veterinarian’s experiences with customers who demand free service – for the good of the pet. Should veterinarians provide affordable health care for people’s pets?
It’s a fair question. Having had numerous pets and been thousands of dollars in debt for their care, I’ve often wondered why it costs $72 for a five minute exam for my dog. Are they price gouging? Do they have a responsibility to make health care affordable for our pets? I think the answer is no. Much like regular physicians, veterinarians have an obligation to provide the best service they can to their patients, but they certainly have no obligation to provide it free of charge. Some charge a lot more than others, and I would submit that those whose prices are too exorbitant for the pet owner to pay, will not receive the pet owner’s business. Most will simply seek out a less expensive option.
So what is it that we’re paying for? The vet explains.
One case in particular sticks out: AJ, a one year old pup who had been vomiting for several days came to see me. We are always concerned about foreign bodies in young dogs, and I thought I might have felt something when I palpated his abdomen. I recommended x-rays, which the owner said they didn’t have money to do; they just wanted some nausea medications.
I understood their limitations, but I was still incredibly nervous about sending them home with the knowledge that AJ might have something life threatening in his abdomen and would prefer that they save their money for surgery if necessary.
As an employee, I could no more give away services than a Macy’s employee could give you a pair of shoes. To do so would be stealing, and could get me fired. But for my own peace of mind, I took an x-ray anyway to make sure AJ didn’t have a ball in there. I spoke to the practice manager and explained the situation, offering to have the cost taken out of my paycheck (she found a way to cover it from our angel fund).
Secure in the knowledge that AJ would probably be OK with a little rest, I went back in to discuss his discharge with the owners. Before I could open my mouth, the owner looked up from his iPhone and laid into me: “If you cared you would have done x-rays for free! It doesn’t cost you anything! You’re a terrible vet and you’re only in it for the money!”
All services cost something. The technician who took AJ’s x-ray draws a salary, as do I for the time I spent interpreting it. The machine itself costs money to maintain, as does the software system where we store the images. Were we to donate services to all who wanted and needed it, we would be out of business in a matter of weeks. AJ’s owner, who was holding a $700 piece of electronics in his hand, made the choice not to make his pet’s care a priority but was happy to leave me and the other wonderful clients who contributed to our angel fund to pay the bill instead. He never did thank us.
All services cost something. This vet, in particular, was a generous soul, who offered to pay for the peace of mind to ensure that pup was safe. This particular hospital was generous enough to cover the pup’s bill by the benevolence of others, who could afford to contribute to a fund to help pet owners who may not have been able to afford the extra care. But make no mistake, this service wasn’t free to the selfish, entitled pet owner. The expertise, years of study, equipment maintenance, office overhead, etc. all cost money, and those costs are passed on in part to the customer. If the customer couldn’t pay, someone else had to. Otherwise, there was no way this practice could remain open, pay its employees, or maintain its offices.
At a doctor’s office, you are paying for equipment maintenance, you’re paying for employees who do everything from clean the office and exam rooms to check you in when you first enter the practice. You’re paying for clean, sterile instruments. You’re paying for the insane malpractice insurance rates doctors have to pay, because predatory scum who may or may not be you can be counted on at any point to file a lawsuit against the doctor. You’re paying for years of study. You’re paying for years of sleepless nights, studying, interning, residency, not eating, developing the very expertise you couldn’t or wouldn’t obtain, which is why you go to the doctor in the first place.
Those who advocate government control of the value put on a physician’s expertise and work, have zero understanding of basic freedoms – the freedom to set a price for one’s own labor, the right to determine the value of your hard work and years of sleepless nights, and study.
One might say the guy with the boat should be viewed similarly, but that’s like comparing apples to Vaseline.
Doctors are professionals. They pay dearly to maintain and improve the skills they have. They face tremendous costs to keep an office open, to compensate their employees for their years of schooling and professional training, to maintain a decent, clean environment, and to be able to save lives! This is what you pay for. If each of us could do it ourselves, no one would need doctors, and their services wouldn’t be worth the price of a Big Mac.
Vets are professionals. Diagnostics are getting more costly as technology gets more expensive. You’re paying for high-tech machines to tell you what’s wrong with your fur baby. You’re paying for the expertise that invented this machine, and that maintains it. Try doing it yourself. Try purchasing an MRI machine, making sure it works, and reading the results without the expertise of multiple individuals who have spent their lifetimes developing the skills you don’t have. Do they not deserve to be compensated for it?
And yet, medical, dental and veterinary charities exist to help those who cannot afford these services. These generous people save lives free of charge, and donate their time and expertise because they do care about their patients. The much reviled pharmaceutical companies participate in patient assistance programs to provide medications that cost millions in dollars and red tape to develop free of charge to people who cannot afford them.
Meanwhile, this dripping anus of a boat owner, who keeps his crappy little leisure vessel for his own entertainment, decided that he would simply cash in on others’ misery. “Yeah, I’ll come save your life, IF you pay me.” Does he have the right to be a douche bag with no sense of decency? Yes. It’s a free country, and we all have the right to be jerks. Do I harbor a not so secret hope that this colostomy bag winds up with that boat firmly lodged up his ass? Yeah.
No, you’re not entitled to this dick weasel’s boat and efforts any more than you’re entitled to a doctor’s or a vet’s efforts. And note I haven’t said his actions should be illegal. They aren’t, and they shouldn’t be. Every one of us should have the right to charge for our services, if there’s a demand for them.
But a little human decency would be nice.