Robot Doctors and Internet Professors

A few days ago, I wrote a piece on the American healthcare and higher education systems, noting that they both suffer from rising costs because the consequences of failing to obtain these services are very dire. I argued that while it is quite unfair to deny healthcare or education to people on the basis of their economic background, there are limits to the supply of these services available–limited numbers of hospital beds, doctors, professors, and university places. Consequently, I claimed it made sense for the state to ration access to these services, ensuring that poor people who can make splendid use of them have access by denying access to those who cannot derive the same benefits. It makes little sense to give a university place to a 95-year old over a poor 20-year old, or to attempt to prolong the poor-quality life of a 95-year old at the expense of saving a poor 5-year old. However, it was suggested to me that this argument might rest on a false assumption–namely, that the supply of college education and healthcare might not be supply constrained, or, at the very least, might soon cease to be. I’d like to consider this objection in further detail.

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