Thomas Sowell speaks to TheDC about the financial crisis, health care, and his ideological transformation from Marxism to conservatism

TheDC: During a press conference about the economy in 2009 Obama said this: “We have a long-standing critical problem in our health care system that is pulling down our economy. It’s burdening families, it’s burdening businesses, and it is the primary driver of our federal deficits.” Is health care really the primary driver of our federal deficits? If so, why? And is the president’s health care reform law the best way to rectify that?

TS: Health care as such is not driving the federal deficit. It is the insistence of the federal government to inject itself into the health delivery system that creates costs for the private system and then creates costs for the federal government when they insist on setting up entitlements rather than allowing these things to take care of themselves in the market.

Another thing the government could do if it were serious, and it is one of the signs that it is not is, is simply make it much more difficult for lawyers to sue doctors and hospitals. It is not just the multimillion dollar settlement fees they get out of these lawsuits. It is the fact that so much of medicine has become defensive medicine — expensive tests are done that would never be done if all you were concerned about was the welfare of the patient, but which are done because the doctors and the hospitals cannot risk being ruined financially by having something happen and having some clever lawyer get up before a jury and tell them, “if only he had done this or that test we would have solved the problem.”

John Edwards got rich saying all these birth defects were due to the fact that the birth was not by Cesarean section. As a result of that there have been an explosion in the number of birth by Cesarean sections. The conditions that John Edwards’s cases involved did not change in the slightest. All it did was drive up the cost of health care and increase the risk for the women and babies.

TheDC: I read that you identified yourself as a Marxist in your college days. What prompted your change in ideology?

TS: I was a Marxist I guess for a decade from about the time I was 20 to 30 roughly. What changed my mind was not anything I had read. I was a Marxist when I went into Milton Friedman’s course at [the University of] Chicago and I was a Marxist when I came out of it.

What changed me was working as an economic intern in the government in 1960 and discovering what the government bureaucracies were like in terms of their motivations and how they do their job. I immediately realized government is not the answer. Life taught me. I think that is true for most people.

Most of the leading conservatives were not conservatives when they were young. Milton Friedman was a liberal, he even described himself in his autobiography as Keynesian in his thinking. Friedrich Hayek was a socialist. Ronald Reagan was so far left that the FBI was keeping an eye on him. So you run through the list — of course the whole neoconservative movement was on the left initially. And the same thing happened in Europe and elsewhere. A lot of the indoctrination that takes place in educational institutions begin to erode when people get into the real world and start thinking for themselves.