Innovation, Infrastructure, and a Bankrupt Government

Since I’m on the topic of healthcare costs lately (and will be for a while, probably), I’d like to talk about the potentiality of healthcare spending bankrupting our national government. Is it possible? I don’t really know, but that’s obviously the worst-case scenario with all this crazy spending we’re doing. I’ve heard a number of different quotes that say effective, cost-curve-flattening health reforms would solve virtually all of the federal government’s fiscal woes. At 18-ish percent of GDP, that’s not that hard to believe.

But there is a little-known upside and a somewhat-known upside to huge amounts of spending.

The somewhat-known upside: innovation. Yes, America’s health system is best known for more than just spending. It’s the source of more healthcare innovations than anywhere else. So maybe that means we’re just subsidizing the world’s cures to . . . everything. This aspect of our system is what I always think about when I wonder how we could reduce spending, because if we reduce spending at the expense of the strong incentive to innovate, is that a net positive or negative?

The little-known upside: infrastructure. Yes, investors follow the money, and why do you think the United States has the nicest hospital facilities and technologies in the world? There’s money in healthcare! This health infrastructure might be the best thing that ever happened to healthcare in the U.S., because it will keep on giving after we’ve found a way to spend less. Think of the internet bubble. Remember how this country spent tons and tons of money on the internet in the ’90s, and then there was that huge stock-market crash? Well, most people probably don’t know that, even after that huge crash, we now have tons and tons of fiber-optic cable all over our country. That infrastructure is said to be one of the leading factors that allowed the internet to grow as fast as it did in the U.S., probably helping us maintain a world-power economy in the midst of huge changes in the structure of business. So a long-term upside to crazy health spending is the infrastructure that it gives us.

I guess what I’m saying is, yes, we’re spending a ton of money on healthcare, but we are also reaping some benefits too, namely innovation and infrastructure. So here’s the final question: Do we think it’s better to have healthcare innovation and infrastructure or a fiscally solid federal government?

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