Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Problem with Free

In economics, I learned about a concept called the free-rider problem. If a good or service is free then people will take advantage of that good or service every chance they get. Nothing is really free, so I should clarify that to mean no additional cost. For example, how many of us eat way too much when we go to an all-you-can eat buffet. You're full before you're done your first plate, but you already have plans to go back for more.

Water in BC is another example. I know some other provinces charge for water usage, but I'm not sure which do and don't. So at first I was thinking this was a great benefit to living in BC. With the free-rider problem though, there is no incentive to reduce the water used. Someone has to pay for the filtering, storage, and delivery. That "someone" ends up being us all collectively through taxes. In a pay system I could actually take measures to reduce my usage as it's in my best interest. I don't care if my neighbor takes 2 hour showers or leaves the water running while he brushes his teeth, because I don't have to pay for it.

Another example that is hitting closer to home now, is health care. As my wife wraps up her schooling this month, it is becoming apparent that a shortage of nurses does not translate into a hiring of nurses. Part of the problem is that management in any government organization is better served by maxing out the departments budget rather than providing better service. The other part of the problem is that because we've paid for the service we're more than likely to use it. Increasing the strain on a health care system already under pressure while mismanagement of the limited funds makes the situation worse.

So I'm left asking if free is really in our best benefit. We've already seen the effects of a pay system in the US and it was also plagued by its own set of problems. However, at least there my wife would have no problem finding work.

Just something to mull over. I'm not offering any solutions, although I do have my opinions on how the system could be improved. I'm still positive that my wife will find work soon.

Has anyone else encountered problems from those so-called free services?


  1. Our Health Care system is another "free-rider" issue... and I wouldn't say thats a bad thing.

  2. @anon: Given that my wife can't get a job and my mother needs to wait 6 months to have her eyes checked, I have to disagree. Health care seems to be one of those touchy subjects, but I don't think a free system is a great solution.

    Health care, housing, food, and clothing are all essential, but we only provide health care to everyone. We provide shelters to those that need them, food stamps to the poor, and welfare for food and clothing only to the most needy. Yet, we give health care away. Why?

    The biggest argument I hear when you mention a pay system is to look at the US. While I agree their system is flawed as well, we should be pushing ourselves to be better than we are rather than better than our neighbors.

    I was hit by a car and had to wait behind someone with a sliver due to the free-rider problem.

    Don't get me wrong. We do have a lot to be thankful for. I'd not trade our system for what a lot of other countries have. However, I do see a lot of room for improvement and I believe a pay system of some sort would go a long way in that regard.

  3. I am so mixed on this! I think that switching to a pay health care service would be a terrible thing; then we're saying that getting the care needed to see a doctor is only for those who can afford it. But I do see some of what you're saying. I do suppose that if we had to pay for our services, we'd have less clogging up of the line,(I'm thinking of the 7 hour lineups to use the free zip line during the Olympics as example) but at what cost? How expensive would our services be? It needs to be governed. The fear is that if we make it a pay-health care, that we separate the lines of "rich" and "poor" and thrust a lot of Canadians into a state of welfare, where they can't afford simple health. I think making it a pay service is too "simple" of an answer and it needs a lot more fixing up of our current system than that.

    Clinics were put into place as an alternative to going to the ER. That needs to be better serviced so that people with slivers aren't heading to the hospital (but seriously, can't we just send them home if that's the case? Sorry, you don't get to see the doctor, you idiot, go buy a pair of tweezers!) Already, there is a pay system in Canada for those who want to bypass the lines.

    I do think we have one of the better systems in the world, and several world-wide studies have shown that! I also think that no matter what system we have, we'd have people upset. It'll be impossible to please everyone, and there would be something that is disagreeable. On the whole, I'm happy with what we have.

    You pointed out in a previous comment about how other services are provided on a limited basis...maybe that's what we need to look at for our health care. Instead of making it a pay-as-you-go sort of thing, make only certain services free. Seeing the doctor about a flu or sinus issue at a clinic can be free. But then again, we get to the touchiness of who has to pay and who doesn't. Would making your mom pay to have her eyes checked be easier for her? Would she be able to afford it? Or do we make it free for the major issues like CT Scans and MRIs or whatnot and a pay system for those who need to see a clinic doctor?

    There's too much to "fix" and work on to make it perfectly assessable for everyone. Forcing everyone to pay for everything is a big step, and the idea needs to be tread upon gently.

  4. Check out this link: Country Rankings for Health Care.

    Canada is ranked 30th, so clearly we have room to improve.

    I agree that charging a fee isn't the whole answer. I'm just saying it doesn't need to be free. I also said, that like housing we help those that can't afford it. So I'm not talking about the rich getting treatment while the poor suffer. Yes, the rich will probably receive better treatment, just like they eat better and have better homes. All these things are a necessity and we all have the opportunity to achieve these things.

    I wasn't really making a suggestion for a solution, only pointing out that it doesn't need to be free. If you really want my ideas, I think home-care reduces the burden of the tax-payer greatly. I think Medical insurance could be public, while the health system itself is made private. Therefore insuring everyone receives insurance, while the health care is run more efficiently.

    We need to look at what the top 29 countries are doing and get on board and stop patting ourselves on the back for being 7 higher than the USA.

    I didn't mean to argue about health care either, I was just using it as one example. I'd like for us to be taxed for water consumption so that I can save more money.

    I love a good debate though, so keep it coming :) Thanks for the feedback guys.

  5. Sort of like how Hydro has it so that you pay for your consumption! Not that that works completely for Health Care, but it would for water! :)

    Good points on how not everything that should be considered a "given" is free. IE: shelter and food. I think you'd like to read this post on socialism. It made me think (and laugh!)
    This is part two, so read part 1 first, she has a link to it! :)