Three Radical Ideas

November 1st, 2012 - R. Rados  &  D. Stone 

In Canada, where publicly funded healthcare, a strict tax code and publicly maintained infrastructure are the status quo, suggesting an alternative approach is not only considered radical but sometimes incendiary. These are three ideas that tend to agitate those on the right and left of the political spectrum. 


1. A Credit Based Private Healthcare Sector

The debate over public and private healthcare has always been a heated one in Canada. Those in defence of our current public system often disregard any alternatives as either blasphemous or ridiculous. This needs to stop. The Canada Health Act currently prohibits any Canadian citizen from paying for most medical treatments. In order to have a co-existent private system, this restriction needs to be removed. 

By introducing a private system based on credits or time served, doctors fresh out of medical school would enter the public system and only "graduate" to the private sector after serving an allotted amount of time in the public sector, receiving a certain number of credits, or establishing a level of merit. This private sector would be optional and only available to doctors, physicians, and nurses who have earned the ability to transfer out of the public system. This secondary private system would allow doctors to establish their own, or join existing private practices. Such a system would also open the door to patients who are willing and capable of funding their own procedures or having them covered by their own private insurance policies. This could also reduce disastrous wait times in the public sector as well as prevent talented, Canadian born doctors from heading south. 

The exact details of such a system would need to be worked out, like its implementation. The amount of time, credits, or merit required for doctors to transfer would have to be decided by collaboration between legislators and medical organizations. Criticisms regarding such a system being one for the wealthy and privileged would arise, as well as criticisms regarding private insurance suppliers, differing pay scales in each sector, and the quality of care. Such a secondary system, however, would exist separately from the current public system and remain optional for all qualifying healthcare practitioners. 

It is estimated that 75% of health services are already privately operated and funded, including ambulance services, cosmetic operations, and certain hospital services. A secondary private system is not a new idea, but it is a contentious one for some. According to a recent poll, more than half of Canadians prefer a mixed model healthcare system. It was The Huffington Post  that mentioned the poll in which 53% of Canadians said they favoured a mixed model over an entirely public or private service.

Ideas like this should be explored honestly rather than be disregarded as radical or unsustainable. Canada's current healthcare model has also been criticized for being unsustainable and in need of change. Why not start with an open and honest discussion that explores every possible option?


2. Choosing Where Our Taxes Go

Our elected politicians are in charge of how our tax dollars are distributed and what departments of government should receive more funding than others. This is the accepted norm in most democratic countries. By using the same thought processes for collecting taxes as we do for filing them, perhaps we could develop a more democratic system of taxation that is controlled by the taxpayers themselves, rather than bureaucrats in Ottawa.

Imagine a system of government spending that is directly decided by voters and taken completely out of the hands of politicians. Just as we are required to file our taxes annually and fill out a national census every five years, perhaps we could introduce a similar system that allows voters/taxpayers to segment and allocate their own income taxes towards the services of their choice. Whether it be to military, healthcare, education, welfare, etc., every four or five years, voters would be asked to allocate their income tax dollars to existing services and departments.

This idea might sound complicated, but keeping it simple would be the key.

Rather than allowing each individual to directly allocate their own taxes, the system would be democratized and based on the accumulated results submitted by all in an election. A default would be applied to those families and taxpayers who choose not to participate or not to care. For example, the default submission for non-participants, or those who fail to submit by the decided deadline, would allocate 30% to healthcare, maybe 15% to military and 20% to education, and so on and so forth. This could be the default submission that would be included in the national results for every individual, except those who change their submissions and choose to participate more actively.

Like a national census, the results would be accumulated and would then be used to allocate government funds accordingly. Evidently some departments and programs may suffer, but this would be the result of a democratic process and a national consensus on how income taxes should be spent. Simply accounting for the likely number of default submissions that would be received, some departments and services would probably continue to receive adequate funding.


3. Privately Owned And Maintained Roads

One of the most contentious arguments in any democracy is about whether private companies are more efficient than the government. When it comes to building and maintaining roads, we seem to know of no alternative to government. One question that often arises in such arguments is: "Without government, who would build roads?" The answer to that question exists within other questions. Without government, who builds cars? Who supplies the asphalt? The concrete? Who do most municipalities hire to get the job done in the first place?

Privately owned parking lots are often the first to be cleared of snow after a blizzard, before any publicly maintained roads. Many municpalities in Canada have even begun to hire private companies for garbage pick-up, disposal, and recycling.

The bottom line for most businesses is attracting business. Without a road leading to your business, you won't make much money. In fact, just like with advertising, your goal would be to reach as many people as possible. In this case, however, your goal would be to get as many people as possible to reach you. It's like having a phone number or a website. A good, well maintained road leading to your business is just as necessary.

The incentive for businesses, mega corporations, and neighborhoods to cooperatively build roads is natural, but not as long as governments and taxpayers keep doing it for them. The truth is that governments generally do a poor job of not only maintaining roads, but designing them. Does this mean that governments should no longer be able to build roads? No. It means that governments should step out of the way when businesses and communities want to take it upon themselves.

According to the Mises Institute, having the government step out of the way isn't such a bad idea. In fact, such projects, like the Dulles Greenway, have already been completed and met with success.

Such privately funded projects would not only reduce the tax burden for some communities and municipalities, they could also open the door to a new acceptance of private partnership and cooperation without government. After all, we do live in a civilized society, for the most part.