Sunday, August 24, 2008

Blindness all around

Here in Illinois, we had a new law passed last October requiring that every child entering kindergarten have an eye exam performed by an optometrist or ophthalmologist. This is in addition to state-mandated in-school tests already performed in kindergarten. This new school year will have the first students actually affected by the requirement.

And who are big supporters of this? The American Optometric Association and the Illinois Optometric Association, of course- public-spirited organizations that, by a remarkable coincidence, are composed of the very people who will be paid to perform the examinations that every young child in the state will be required to undergo.

Now, human motivations are multifaceted, and I don’t think the average optometrist thinks about it in those terms; he probably really does care about children’s eye health as well as his own income. But in a way, that’s part of the problem. You’re going to be very-hard pressed to convince me that economic self-interest did not play a significant role in the positions taken by those organizations, but the fact that most optometrists really do feel genuine concern for public health is precisely what lets them ignore other motivations that are likely shaping their opinions. The public interest cover provided to aid in rent-seeking doesn’t just serve to bamboozle the public- it is often necessary for the psychological well-being of the beneficiaries.

I’ve come to think that one of the biggest threats to liberty in this country is unthinking trust in the medical profession and the exalted demigod status the profession enjoys. I don’t think the medical profession is more self-interested than any other group, but I see no reason to think they are any less, either, and because of their high status they can get away with more. (Teachers are in an analogous position, further strengthened by the fact that they work for the public sector.) You can cloak all sorts of things as necessary for public health, and people will buy it uncritically. It allows bootlegger and Baptist-style special interest lobbying, except the bootlegger and the Baptist are the same person.

This unthinking trust also causes serious problems when the issue is not rent-seeking but nanny statism. Just as scientists love knowledge and artists love beauty, it is a natural and understandable prejudice of a doctor to consider health important above all else. That’s probably a good attitude to have when you’re cutting a tumor out of someone, but it distorts your perceptions when you look at society, law, and human existence as a whole through that lens. I think this is largely what causes the apparent indifference to freedom, personal preference, and economic considerations often seen in the policy proposals of medical organizations.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

No comments: