All Commentary
Friday, December 1, 1989

I’m Here to Help You


Stu Pritchard, M.D., of Turnwater, Washington, divides his time between practicing medicine and farming An earlier version of this article appeared in The Olympian, published in Olympia, Washington.

Two time-honored professions, among others over the millennia, have been revered in history and extolled in poetry. “Medicine,” exclaimed Voltaire, “that most estimable of professions.” Longfellow wrote of farmers’ lives “darkened by shadows of earth, but reflecting an image of heaven.”

These two professions are among those now being throttled by bureaucratic government. “It’s insanity,” said a radiologist to me recently about trying to cope. “They’re taking away my livelihood,” lamented a farmer.

But how to explain? How can others in different professions, who see only their own oxen being gored, understand my problems as a physician and a farmer?

On one day alone, eight missives arrived by mail from Medicare. Page after computer-printed page added and deleted five-digit codes for myriad medical procedures and diagnoses. Cited were “violative procedures,” each bearing a possible $2,000 fine. A clerk demanded copies of all my office notes and records for the past two years from my personal file on a long-standing heart patient. Of course, I refused.

Meanwhile, back at the farm, a young lady drove past the barn and stopped at the farmhouse. The legend, “Department of Agriculture,” on the side of her pickup caught my eye.

“I’m here to help you,” she announced, and then, “I see you have two cows in your pasture.” (“Heifers,” I corrected.) “And we’ve had a report from Thurston County Health Department that you did some plowing last summer.”

“Yes,” said I. “That’s why more than 100 geese fly in frequently to nibble at the oats I planted. They are undisturbed by 13 deer who also like the feast.”

“Well,” she persisted, “we’re concerned about pollution in Oyster Bay.”

“I am, too, but I don’t think this valley that’s been a farm for more than 90 years contributes much pollution. Better to concentrate on human sources of pollution and contagion.”

Public-spirited, energetic regulators are sincerely motivated and increasingly “enabled” by politicians in legislative assembly. Although in both state and Federal constitutions, government is prohibited from using prior restraint to restrict freedom of speech and press, that same doctrine appears to be the method used by powerful bureaucrats to impose their views upon the citizenry.

“Your actions,” they seem to say, “might, even by a long stretch of the imagination, cause harm to others. There is no proof you have, but it is our supposition that you might cause harm. Therefore, you’re guilty, and we won’t allow you to prove yourself innocent of any wrongdoing.”

Prior restraint—a doctrinaire signpost on “The Road to Serfdom,” to quote the title of the famous book by Nobel Laureate Friedrich Hayek—can regulate to the point of non-production, destroy incentive and entrepreneurship, and enfeeble the industrious.

My local newspaper reports that every 100 public-sector jobs create 75 private-sector jobs. But wouldn’t it be more realistic to say that 75 of the latter create 100 of the former? After all, which sector supports the other?

Which is the sector that is mired down in license and permit fees, taxes, inquisitorial reports, and unannounced inspections on private property? And if employees in the public sector wail that they, too, pay taxes, ask the source of the money used to pay those taxes.

Yes, many who have loved their doctoring, their farming, and their other peaceful pursuits might pause to reflect: “Don’t let bureaucracy dim freedom’s light.”