The Quack Remedy of Commercialization

Paul Krugman has a recent column, "Patients Are Not Consumers." He concludes the column by saying:
The idea that all this can be reduced to money — that doctors are just “providers” selling services to health care “consumers” — is, well, sickening. And the prevalence of this kind of language is a sign that something has gone very wrong not just with this discussion, but with our society’s values.
I like Krugman’s having the good common sense to realize that medical care is NOT all or only about money – and that we are in trouble if we think it is. The reduction of EVERYTHING to money is a key driver, I think, in making corruption invisible to people. As Krugman observes:
Now politicians and supposed reformers talk about the act of receiving care as if it were no different from a commercial transaction, like buying a car — and their only complaint is that it isn’t commercial enough. What has gone wrong with us?
James Kwak at the Baseline Scenario details research which shows that the more people think about money, the less admirably they act. As well, taking economics classes may have a negative effect on behavior:

Robert Frank, Thomas Gilovich, and Dennis Regan wrote two papers on this back in the 1990s that most of the professional economists out there already know. In one of their experiments, they asked undergraduates at the beginning and end of the semester several questions such as whether or not they would return $100 lost by a stranger at the end of the semester. They found that the proportion of students who gave more dishonest answers at the end of the semester than at the beginning was highest for students who took introductory micro from the mainstream economist, lower for students who took introductory micro from the developmental economist, and lowest for students who took introductory astronomy.

If there’s an effect here, I don’t think the mechanism is that economics makes you a bad person. Instead, it changes your expectations about what the rest of the world is like. If you are an altruistic person and someone teaches you that (a) most people are self-interested and (b) the world would be better if everyone behaved in a self-interested way, that is likely to make you behave in a less altruistic way.

I was really struck by Krugman’s words that: “and their only complaint is that [medicine] isn’t commercial enough.” Somehow, more commercialization has become the always-prescribed panacea to everything. The same universal nostrum is also prescribed for education. Recently in Texas, there has been a lot of emphasis in education in whether professors and research are on balance money-making or money-losing for their universities.

Commercialization is not only no panacea – it is often not a remedy at all, like other quack prescriptions. Fortunately, many good people within organizations that pay lip service to money as the only value do NOT act that way and do subvert their corrupt leadership. But we also need to challenge the frameworks that people use when they talk – very unrealistically – as though human beings were, above all, “consumers.”

In reality, life is NOT all about money – and we get in trouble when we act or think as though it is.