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System? We Ain’t Got No System


Although the term is in common use, my experience as a local crime-fighter has taught me there is no such thing as a criminal justice system. The term “system” implies a coherent integration of activities which does not exist. Lawmakers, police, prosecutors, courts, prisons, and probation departments have overlapping interests, but are independent bodies. This is most commonly witnessed as a revolving jailhouse door, where an offender is arrested, charged, released, and then arrested for the same offense, often within days. If this were a system, it would be a failed system.

Frank Stephenson sees a similar problem with health care:

We hear lots of chatter about reforming the health care system, but I think using the word system plays into the hands of statists and planners (men of the system in the words of the great one) by giving the impression that the provision of health care services is something that can be directed via central planning. We don't speak of the grocery system or the clothing system, so why refer to health care as a system?

Even criminal justice, where essentially every aspect is well within the bounds of government action, and those the “system” operates upon are properly subjects of coercion, does not function well. A free society can’t be treated as an individual entity. There is no generic “public” or “body politic”. Society is far more complex than the biological units which comprise it.

Individual people are biological systems, made of mostly self-regulating interconnected subsystems. Those systems support the brain, not the other way around. You can’t think your cholesterol down.

Similarly, the health care sector supports individual people. It distills billions of preferences through many subsystems to maintain its function. It operates without the conscious control of a brain (or brain-trust). To believe that some brain-trust can achieve better health care sector results is much like believing mind power cures heart disease.

To assume a controllable “system” is to deny the complexity and dignity of those within the system. Some things—most things, actually, work pretty well without any meddling. Nobody is smart enough to beat death, or powerful enough to eliminate suffering.

Rather than creating a “health care system”, I say government should work on fixing the systems it is already operates, like criminal justice.