Several years ago I had a conversation with a professor in a European university. She was a staunch proponent of European socialism against American “cowboy” capitalism. Here is part of the conversation:
Bojidar Marinov: What about European incomes?
Professor: What about them? I make 22,000 Euro (24,000 US Dollars at the time) a year. Does anyone in America make this money?
Bojidar Marinov: Er, . . . ahem . . . yes, cashiers at Walmart make that.
Professor: Huh? Seriously? . . . Oh, but you don’t have free healthcare.
Europeans very often are quite ignorant about the United States. The same way, American liberals are ignorant about the real situation in Europe. And it is not as beautiful as the liberals would want it. But every time I point that in a conversation, I get the same reply: “What about the free healthcare?”
Well, then, let’s look at the most lauded and exalted example healthcare in Europe: that of France.
In the Houston Examiner of August 8, 2009, Jenny Kakasuleff presents a pretty picture of the French healthcare system. She mentions studies by the World Health Organization that rank France number one in health care. She lists different types of care that the French system supplies and the quality of the system compared to the healthcare system in the US. In a few words, the French socialized system of healthcare is what we want.
What Kakasuleff doesn’t mention is what that system costs the French people. Not only that, she forgets to make a comprehensive comparison between the life of a French family, and the life of, let’s say, a family in Houston. Every good thing has costs, some visible, and some invisible, and before we buy something, we need to know what we need to trade for it.
My first question always is the same as in the above dialogue: How much money do you make? I don’t just want to know if you have only one part of your lifestyle in a perfect condition, I want to know your comprehensive lifestyle and how well off you are. It makes no sense to buy a new Mercedes-Benz on credit and brag about it, if after the monthly payment you barely have anything left to put food on the table. So, I want to find out if that lauded healthcare system in France comes with the same level of wealth in the other aspects of the French lifestyle. We can’t just look at one thing and compare. We need to look at the whole picture.
So looking at the statistics, I find out that in 2003 the Gross National Income per capita in the USA was $37,750. I don’t know how exactly they came up with this number, but I can work with it. The same website tells us that the GNI per capita in France is $27,640. (All the numbers there are in US Dollars.)
So, even before I look deeper into it, the French citizen makes $10,000 less a year, before taxes. Question: Is this worth it? Think of how much healthcare you can buy here in the US for $10,000 a year. People here in the US get much more in healthcare than what the French system can offer, for much less than $10,000 a year.
Let alone the fact that in France fuel is three times more expensive, food is more expensive, clothes are more expensive, and in general, almost everything is more expensive than in the USA. One dollar in America can buy much more than the same dollar in France.
What about the taxes? What we get paid is one thing, what we get to keep and use is another.
In 2007 total government revenues in the USA were at $2.6 trillion, the highest in the history of the US. Divided by 300 million population, the Federal government took from each one of us $8,700 a year. It is outrageously too much, I believe. But let’s see what the French government did to its own people.
In the same year, the total tax revenues in France were 818 billion Euro. Divided by 64 million French, this makes about €12,780 Euro per capita. Or approximately $17,250 at the rates of that year.
Subtracted from the figures above, statistically the average American has about $29,000 a year left in his pocket, while the average French has only $10,000.
Granted, the numbers are rounded, they are not perfectly exact, and I could probably be more thorough in my research. But the difference between the two nations is too big to be ascribed to inaccuracy. In case you wonder if I have made any calculation errors, you can check with the French Embassy and learn that the average family income in France was €20,440 Euro (around $26,000) in 2004. Take out the taxes, and consider the higher prices in France; and then compare to America.
So, my question is: What is it that the French government provides to its people that an average American can’t buy for much less than $19,000 a year?
I am skeptical about Kakasuleff’s claims concerning the successes of the French healthcare system. There are quite a few claims to the opposite, by French nationals themselves. But even if the French system was as perfect as claimed and gave its citizens much better and healthier life, they don’t seem to have much left to enjoy it. They have to pay higher prices for gas, for housing, for food. They have to live in smaller houses than the average Houstonian. And how many French can afford a vacation every year, or two cars per family?
The French healthcare system, even if taken at its best, is like an expensive jewel on a beggar’s neck. However interested I am in my health and the health of my family, I don’t get sick as often as I drive my Buick or as I rest in my spacious air-conditioned house. And I can pay much less than $19,000 a year and get much better healthcare than the French.
So Ms. Kakasuleff had it wrong. You can’t compare one thing only. You need to look at the whole picture. We need to fix the problems with our healthcare system, no doubt about it. But it is hardly a wise choice to follow the example of a nation where one thing is a success—allegedly—while every other aspect of the nation’s life is an abject failure.