Mises Daily

The New Bureaucratic Man

[Originally published May 19, 2010.]

There is something to Trotsky’s vision of man under communism. From all historical appearances, man under a totalitarian state functions differently than a man under liberty. And degrees of man exist as society slowly turns from liberty to slavery.

The prevailing view is that man under socialized healthcare will remain the same as man today — a man living under a pseudo-free market. In fact, some even believe that man may progress. In this view, the doctor we see today will, at the very least, remain the same under socialized health care. Don’t bet on it.

Unlucky Ducks

I once worked as a software contractor for a state agency (forgive me). The building where I worked was not your typical government building. It had a modern feel, with a decorative moat detailing the front entrance. The front door — guarded, of course — was accessible via a walkway bridge of sorts.

It’s not what you may be thinking; it was all very subtle and nice. However, the drop from the bridge to the mulch-covered, bush-laden moat was a good three feet.

One year, at the beginning of spring, a duck built a nest in the moat, under one of the many bushes. As her ducklings hatched and grew, it came time for them to search for water. However, despite their repeated attempts, the ducklings could not jump from the moat to the walkway bridge.

One of the employees in the building asked the building manager if he (the employee) could place a wooden ramp to allow the ducklings to waddle out of the moat. Being a good state employee himself, the building manager called the state department of natural resources for guidance. The answer: since ducks are migratory birds, no one could do anything.

The next morning, someone plastered official signs around the entrance, stating that any attempt to help the ducks was a violation of law. No ramp, no water, no food. And violators — you know this already — would be prosecuted to the fullest extent.

Soon we had a real scene. The mother duck would leave the moat and encourage her ducklings to follow. They couldn’t, of course. She would march back and forth on the walkway bridge and quack in desperation. All the while, the guard at the entrance stood watch, stopping any attempt to help.

Repeated calls to the bureaucrats at the department of natural resources were answered by a repetition of laws and fines. And not one of the department employees was going to go against the rules, or even ask for an exemption, for any reason.

The ducklings died days later.

There you have it: upon joining the state, the department of resource folks — folks who likely dreamed of careers helping wildlife — became staunch bureaucrats enforcing rules over reason.


I have had many good experiences with doctors, nurses, and such. Our pre-Obamacare system was not perfect, but it suffered from nothing that the free market couldn’t cure. Nevertheless, our elected officials believe otherwise. And they have a lot of support from the masses, who, I believe, are deluded.

Many proponents of socialized healthcare envision a system where their current providers remain, and society, hidden behind the state, pays the bills. But man changes by degree as liberty is lost. So the smiling doctor and caring nurse you trust will become the faces of the nomenklatura and apparatchiks. They can become nothing else.

Yuri Maltsev, former economist under Gorbachev, detailed the truths of Soviet medicine in a recent Mises.org article. He wrote of drunken medical professionals roaming the halls of filthy hospitals — hospitals devoid of necessary equipment and supplies. And he wrote of a system where adherence to the rules of the bureaucracy trumped reason and sanity.

Meeting quotas was the mission, not serving the patients. So people died due to the rules of the bureaucracy, and no one could or would do otherwise.

Do we really believe the conduct of Russians under socialist rule was due to genetics or geography? Do we really believe there is something unique about Russians or Russia — and all the other groups who lived under socialist rule? And do we really believe Americans under that very same system would comport themselves in a different manner — as if altruism were genetic in the 50 states? Does anyone really believe any of that?

We have a tough case to make. We have the supporters of socialized healthcare dreaming that everything will remain the same, except someone else will pay the bill. It’s a nice fantasy. But a fantasy, nonetheless. And fantasies can be hard to defeat at times.

On our side, we have the science of economics that says the system will collapse in the end. It will collapse under its own weight due to the state’s inability to allocate resources efficiently. And just as important, we have history that shows how man behaves when under socialism — how man will behave until the system finally collapses. And let me tell you, that behavior ain’t pretty.

Your doctor and nurse, no matter how nice today, will become the bureaucracy. They will see you in terms of state rules and regulations. They will push you out into the cold rather than risk having you die on site — and them having to suffer the consequences of a bad report to the central authorities.

Of course, your beloved healthcare professionals will not change overnight from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde. No, they will slowly change as the cloud of socialized medicine and accompanying bureaucracy incessantly rots their souls (as it rots our souls as well). It will happen — it has to.

To think otherwise is to be that mother duck, expecting officials of the state to rescue her ducklings because that is what employees of the department of natural resources are supposed to do: rescue wildlife.

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