This essay is dedicated to the memory of Witold Kwaśnicki, a Polish libertarian who recently passed away at the tender age of seventy. He died from pancreatic cancer. He expired not in a matter of years after diagnosis, nor even months. Rather, he succumbed in a matter of mere weeks. What a horrible disease that is.
I am now 80 years old. I full well realize that no one gets out of this alive; that my life expectancy is not what it was ten, twenty or thirty years ago. How do I come to grips with the prospects of my not too distant demise? How do keep my chin up?
I do so in two ways. First, I resolve to make each and every day, hour, minute (even second if I can) count. I try to enjoy myself all the livelong day (to a great degree through writing and speaking out in behalf of liberty). Yes, of course, everyone has chores. No life is a full bowl of cherries. But I do my best to appreciate whatever time I have left as much as possible. I have been doing this for decades.
The second way I try to achieve happiness in the face of inevitable death is try to understand its cause, such as from cancer. Why, then, do we now suffer from this dread disease? Surely, in 500 years this ailment will go the way of smallpox, polio, tetanus, hepatitis B, hepatitis A, rubella, hib, measles, whooping cough (pertussis), pneumococcal disease, rotavirus, mumps, chickenpox, diphtheria and others —which we have either eradicated entirely, or pretty much wrestled to the ground, so that they no longer constitute death sentences. Why are we still beset by cancer, and other such killers?
The only answer that satisfies me is that this is the fault of the government.
How so? First, they take some 50% of the goods and services we all produce. This impoverishes us. We are now half as wealthy as we would be without this malevolent institution seizing our hard-earned property. Murray Rothbard, Mr. Libertarian, maintains that a more accurate GDP calculation would subtract the government’s “contribution,” not add it to what emanates from the private sector. But matters are even worse.1Rothbard, Murray N. 1961. “The Fallacy of the ‘Public Sector’” the New Individualist Review; reprint: Rothbard, Murray N. 1997. “The Fallacy of the ‘Public Sector.’” The Logic of Action: Applications and Criticism from the Austrian School, Vol. II, Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar
For what do the statists do with “their” share of our earnings? With their regulations, prohibitions, and compulsions they further reduce our economic power. As a rough estimate, we are now down to 33% of where we would otherwise be, without this pernicious institutional arrangement. Let us consider but one regulation that directly impinges on the search for medical cures. When and if a breakthrough occurs, government will limit profits; it will quell “profiteering” and price “gouging.” It will insist upon lowered drug prices. It is due to this threat that firms in this industry will have less of an incentive to do the necessary research than would otherwise be the case.
What does this have to do with death by cancer, heart attacks, kidney disease and other such debilitations? According to that old adage, “Wealthier is healthier,” the richer we are, other things equal, the more able we will be to rid ourselves of these medical scourges.
We must of course acknowledge that government does spend money not only on direct attempts to find cures for these horrid diseases, but also indirectly, through pure research. We must give the Devil his due. But the state insists upon its own agenda; it “cancels” researchers who adopt alternative plans; it threatens the medical licenses of physicians who pursue and recommend non-centrally planned medications, as in the case of COVID-19. It engages in affirmative action in both the private and so-called public sector which results in people less qualified occupying their laboratories in the first place.
We cannot claim that if the populace were three times as well-to-do as it is at present—in the absence of intrusive government—that all of this would go into basic or medical research. But more of it likely would. And we would be closer to quelling these diseases that plague mankind.
If government would get off the neck of the economy, we cannot be sure that under free enterprise cancer would be overcome. Perhaps, instead, it might be heart disease, strokes, lung disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, tuberculosis, cirrhosis.
A tried and true aphorism is that “To know, is to forgive.” I turn this around just a little bit. What keeps me going is, instead, “To know, is to obviate the pain that comes when we contemplate needless, premature deaths from tragedies such as pancreatic cancer.” Understanding the real cause of such abominations—government—makes it seem less of a threat, less terrible.