Last August the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) came out with a survey showing that Americans pay way more for cell phone service than just about anyone else. To which Cactus at Angry Bear responded, sarcastically, that this means the U.S. must have the best cell phone service in the world.
I’m just now catching up to this, but I think Cactus could have taken the analogy further.
In the early 1980s, most European countries decided to adopt a uniform GSM system for cell phone service, so that any cell phone would work anywhere in those countries on the same network. Today this GSM system is the most popular standard for cell phones in the world, used by 80 percent of the world’s cell phone users in at least 100 countries.
And then there is the U.S. Our Congress didn’t want to adopt standards — that would be government regulation, you know, which is bad — so it let the free market come up with our standards. So we have a tangled mess of private and incompatible digital networks, and cell phones that don’t work anywhere but here, if then.
Providers like T-Mobile and AT&T do offer GSM service, but my understanding is that they use different frequency bands. So those phone still can’t tap into the standard GSM network that most of the world is using.
I found an article from 2005 on “Europe’s homogenous cell phone culture” that said,
Strangely, in the country that widely supported “universal” service in the early days of telephony, the United States’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decided not to regulate cell standards, thus the inconsistent mix of separate systems.
Reuters cited an FCC report saying that its decision was correct since it found Americans talk more on their phones and pay less than Europeans do.
Reuters pointed out, though, that 8 of 10 people in Europe have cell phones while only 6 of 10 people in the United States do.
The difference in service is dramatic. Cell phone coverage in the United States is thin and reception chancy in apartments and, says Reuters, land lines are necessary in ranch houses in Los Angeles.
GSM works everywhere in Europe, including at the bottom of a salt mine in Poland.
It may be that those ranch houses in Los Angeles have cell phone service now, assuming they weren’t destroyed in forest fires or mud slides. California seems like a chancy place to live. But now we don’t even get the cheaper prices. This guy says, “on average, the OECD found that Americans pay $635.85 on cell phone service, compared to $131.44 per year in the Netherlands or $137.94 per year in Sweden.”
Thus it is with health care. We’ve got a Rube Goldberg health care system held together with twine and duct tape, and it hemorrhages cost, and we pay more and get less than anywhere else. And why? Because Congress wouldn’t step in and regulate it.
Yes, Congress will intervene — reluctantly — to patch up parts of the system that are utterly failing. This is how we got Medicare; millions of seniors had no health insurance and the private market wouldn’t sell it to them.
But these measures amount to band-aids that keep the ugly beast alive, so to speak. Taxpayers step in where the private system fails, and then the private system blames government interference for its failures.
Face it — we’re a nation of rubes.
Update: And other people get more paid sick days, too.