Monday, September 19, 2005

My First Book Review...

Recently, I was asked by Oxford University Press to review their new title “One Nation, Uninsured” by Professor Jill Quadagno of Florida State University. I met Dr Quadagno (virtually) at the OUP blog where she had posted an article which linked here. I left a few comments, which prompted the blog’s editor to contact me, offering a chance to review Dr Q’s new tome.
Dr Q is a proponent of national health care (not necessarily socialized medicine, BTW), while I am a staunch opponent. This seemed like a great opportunity to get inside the mind of someone with whom I vehemently disagree, to see if there is any common ground, and to see what makes such a person “tick.” It’s also a valuable opportunity to test my own thought processes, and my own beliefs.
SPOILER ALERT: I’m still a staunch opponent of national health care, let alone socialized medicine.
I’ve decided that the fairest way to do this is to offer first my opinion on the quality of the writing, and then on the quality of the content.
As to the first, I found the book to be a fairly easy read. The chapters flow well into each other, and her style is unusual for a member of academe: she doesn’t talk down to her audience, nor assume that we’re experts in the field. If you’re a proponent of a national health care system, this book will help you understand a bit more about how one might work, and some of the challenges such a plan might face. If you’re a free market advocate, it’s not likely to be that useful for you, other than as for intellectual exercise. Either way, the $28 MSRP seems high; however, it’s available from Walmart for $17.
As to content, well, that’s another story. Dr Q opens with what I consider the weakest form of debate: anecdotal evidence. That is, tearjerker stories (which I do not doubt are true) about how the weakest among us have been let down by the system, who can’t afford or qualify for insurance, folks who had insurance and lost it. Of course, I am not unsympathetic to their plight (who would be?), but anecdotal evidence is never going to win a fact-based debate. I can tell all kinds of success stories about folks who have excellent insurance, who were able to buy it even though they weren’t in Olympic-athlete condition, and folks who were able to save money with insurance.
So what?
All this does is reduce the debate to “my story’s better than yours,” not move it forward.
One of the major problems I have with those who push for government-based health care is that we already have two such systems in place: Medicare and the VA. Both of these are not just comparable to, but are actually the embodiment of, national health care systems. The Medicare model is a bit less restrictive; the VA model is exactly what nationalized health care will look like.
Now, do any of the fine folks who yearn for national health insurance ever point to these two institutions as models of efficiency? Of world-class levels of care? Of course not. But if they are truly interested in a fact-based, as opposed to an emotion-based, debate – that is, a debate on the merits – then they must readily concede that their arguments are indeed without merit.
Believe it or not, there are eight chapters in the book; this introduction has touched only on the first. We’ll look at the others in the coming weeks.
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