Robert Goldberg is the vice president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest. He has forwarded a column with his thoughts on “what the Chilean miners can teach us about Obamacare.”
in his message forwarding the piece, Goldberg provides a kind of executive summary: “Private-sector innovators from around the world contributed their expertise to the rescue effort in Chile, and the result was nothing short of miraculous. Yet when it comes to rescuing our health care system, President Obama and his allies are hellbent on limiting — if not eliminating — the role of private-sector innovation. America’s leaders should take note of Chile’s example — and reverse their cynical, government-heavy course.”
Nearly a billion people watched as the 33 Chilean miners were rescued from their accidental prison below the earth. And millions more made their safe escape possible through innovations in medicine, telecommunications and engineering.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Daniel Henninger observed: “If those miners had been trapped a half-mile down like this 25 years ago anywhere on earth, they would be dead. What happened over the past 25 years that meant the difference between life and death for those men?”
His answer: market-driven innovation.
The Center Rock drill, heretofore not featured on websites like Engadget or Gizmodo, is in fact a piece of tough technology developed by a small company in it for the money, for profit. That’s why they innovated down-the-hole hammer drilling. If they make money, they can do more innovation.
This profit = innovation dynamic was everywhere at that Chilean mine. The high-strength cable winding around the big wheel atop that simple rig is from Germany. Japan supplied the super-flexible, fiber-optic communications cable that linked the miners to the world above.
Samsung of South Korea supplied a cellphone that has its own projector. Jeffrey Gabbay, the founder of Cupron Inc. in Richmond, Va., supplied socks made with copper fiber that consumed foot bacteria, and minimized odor and infection.
Chile’s health minister, Jaime Manalich, said, “I never realized that kind of thing actually existed.”
As Henninger notes: “[W]ithout the year-over-year progress embedded in these capitalist innovations, those trapped miners would be dead.”
But there is another lesson to be learned that is woven in the fabric of this fundamental insight: Both the technologies used to save the miners and the rapid development of a rescue plan were made possible because millions of people around the world exchanged time, money, ideas and inventions to create a solution.
As Matt Ridley writes in his wonderful book The Rational Optimist, the exchange of ideas and things is essential to generating the prosperity and technology that made the rescue possible along with the tax revenues that allow governments to function. Because finding more efficient ways to improve the creation of products and delivery of services in response to human wants and needs has always been the path to improving well-being.
Ultimately, societies thrive when innovation occurs without much interference and where governments are not seeking to centralize and manage the exchange of ideas and resources according to some master plan. The $20 million spent to rescue the miners will generate greater wealth and longer life for thousands and millions of people in the years ahead. The rescue is a model of how people around the planet can solve problems and improve life if left to their own devices.
Absent government interference, the rescue was not only flawless — it took less time than expected. Compare the speed and efficiency of the Chilean operation to, say, the government’s response to the BP oil spill. The administration, abiding regulations and chain of command inured to one way of doing things, requiring a test before introducing a new technology, made matters worse before they got better. Ultimately the Gulf response was organized around the belief that resources are finite and that government must regulate human activities to protect the commons.
The belief that government must control the pace and use of innovation to avoid financial Armageddon explains why Obamacare is organized to redistribute health care spending and limit it according to government-produced rules. An article in the New England Journal of Medicine observed: “The antagonism toward cost-per-QALY comparisons also suggests a bit of magical thinking — the notion that the country can avoid the difficult trade-offs that cost-utility analysis helps to illuminate…. It represents another example of our country’s avoidance of unpleasant truths about our resource constraints.”
In fact, advances in surgical procedure, the introduction of medicines that reduce the need for hospitalization, including drugs for a host of diseases that were once fatal, have made medicine more efficient and valuable. Greater gains in efficiency and value are on the way. We will be able to predict which of us could eventually have disease, preventing them or treating them before they cascade. But such innovations are the disease, according to those in charge of Obamacare: They will drain limited resources and must be regulated.
Isaiah Berlin wrote: “Disregard for the preferences and interests of individuals today in order to pursue some distant social goal that their rules have claimed is their duty to promote has been a common cause of misery for people throughout the ages.”
The rescue of the Chilean miners was the product of leadership encouraging collective intelligence and innovation on a global scale. In America, an elite is using government to consolidate its ability to impose its grand vision about health care on the nation. Who will rescue us from this fate?
It’s a question that couldn’t be more timely. I would like to think that help is on the way come November 2.