My radio was on as I went from the Y to the day job this morning, and I got another dose of the Conventional Wisdom, served up hot and (not so) fresh by NPR. Sorry, no link, but unless you've been doing the hermit-in-a-cave thing, I'm sure you've heard it, too. I'm talking about how President Rainbow Brite is destined to lose the left unless he serves up a "public option" to compete with private insurers.
Ah, yes, compete. Bear with me while I take a digressive stroll down Memory Lane.
I spent the last four years of the previous millennium serving on a school board. I'll be coy about which one, but let's just say that its initials were E, A, C, and S, and that The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette was not even slightly amused, not at any time. It was an experience from which I emerged with unexpected respect and more than a little affection for many people, contrary to my expectations; and from which I also emerged convinced that "schools" probably aren't a very good idea, and that schools operated by governments are a hideously bad idea. Anyway, it was the system's policy at that time (and may still be -- I don't know for sure) to provide transportation, on a noninterference basis, to kids in the district attending private schools, as well as EACS schools. By "noninterference," I mean that we didn't have routes that went deliberately to Saint So-and-So's Parish School; but a kid living in the district was quite welcome to climb on our bus at the point where an existing route passed closest to his or her house, and climb off again at that route's closest approach to his or her school. Those parents, after all, were being taxed at the same rates as all others in the district, so why not?
Well, our superintendent (who was, by the way, quite an excellent one) knew why not. As he saw it, we were locked in a struggle to the death with those private and parochial schools, and anything we could do to make those schools a less-attractive choice was obviously what we should do. As he put it, "you don't see McDonald's providing buses to take people to Burger King."
He'd have had a good point, except for the radical asymmetry of the "competition" he wanted to have with those other schools. As I replied to him at the time, you also don't see McDonald's putting a gun to everyone's head in order to secure its revenue stream, as we were most assuredly doing.
The same thought returns to me when I consider the "competition" between a (quasi-semi-demi-)private insurer, on the order of Blue Cross, and AmeriCare or whatever our supervisors will call the golem they assemble. It won't matter how well or how poorly it's run; it will axiomatically be "too big to fail."
Competition, indeed. Anyone want to start a new car company today, while looking up the bad end of the shotgun barrel of Government Motors?