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Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

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have a great idea. Haircut insurance! Before you double up, hear me out. It’s important to look good, right? It’s more than important. Good hair can make the difference between success and failure in business and personal relationships. The bad-hair day is a scourge we have tolerated far too long.

The value of a kempt coiffure is undisputed. But the cost of securing it is out of control. Have you checked the prices at the tony local hair stylist lately? Outrageous! You can go to one of those McStylist outlets, but be prepared to do the cutting and styling yourself to show the attendant what you want–unless you speak the right foreign language. (This is not to disparage non-English speakers. But I would suggest that the stylist schools include the phrase “please take some more off the top” in their curricula.)

We men, of course, can go to real man’s barber shops, which have come back into vogue with red, white, and blue barber poles a-spinning. But prices are going up there too. My local cuttery escalated the damage from $8.99 to $9.99 recently. And I have to tip the help something. (Memo to barber shops: add a penny and stop treating us like dummies.)

So I’ve established the critical nature of tonsorial ministrations. And I’ve also established that there’s nothing preventing snippers from charging an arm and a leg to have at our locks. It’s time for public action.

We have a ready model at hand: medical insurance. Here’s how it works. Nearly everyone has even his most routine medical care paid for by someone else. This is ingenious! The government pays for a large percentage of the care through Medicaid and Medicare. Of course the taxpayers foot the bill. But the key thing is that the cost is hidden; that’s the next best thing to the service’s being free. Most of the rest of us have health insurance. That cost is blissfully hidden too. Because of creative government policy, most people with health insurance don’t pay for it directly, or they pay for only a portion of it. No one knows who bears the full cost. This is the magic of public policy. Employers give it to their workers as a fringe benefit and properly deduct it as a business expense. People can go to the doctor or hospital as often as they like at a fraction of the true cost. Everybody’s happy. Well, there is the small wrinkle that with rising medical prices, which have nothing to do with this benign system of hidden costs, companies and governments are moving toward HMOs, or Horrible Medical Organizations. Under this system, everyone has a right to consult a bureaucratic accountant to plead for permission to consult a doctor. This strikes me, however, as an excellent form of preventive care. Many a visit surely has been averted.

Our model of medical insurance would work well with hair care. Everyone would get hair care insurance, the premium well hidden in the tax bill. Under the policy, each of us would have the right to go to a hair stylist or barber as often as he needs to. All the important services would be part of the basic package of benefits: cutting, shampooing, blow-drying, coloring, permanents, and such. If the service providers lobby hard enough and make sufficient campaign contributions, I’m sure they can have manicures and pedicures appended to the list.

Should the stampede for free visits cause prices to rise (not because payment and service are unlinked but because of vicious profiteering), we can follow the medical model again. The government could mandate the formation of HMOs, hair-maintenance organizations, which would impose strict cost controls with only minor inconvenience.

“Yes sir, may I help you?”

“I’m here to get my hair cut.”

“When did you last have it cut?”

“Eight months ago.”

“You don’t need a haircut yet. Sign this form.”

“What form?”

“If you’d get the hair out of your eyes, you’d see it.”

Old-fashioned types who favor the free market will scoff at this proposal and point out that having government and employers pick up the tab doesn’t eliminate costs but only increases demand and makes the costs even higher. Right. Aren’t those the same people who said Social Security would go broke someday?

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    Sheldon Richman is vice president of The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom. For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families; Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax; and Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Calling for the abolition, not the reform, of public schooling. Separating School & State has become a landmark book in both libertarian and educational circles. In his column in the Financial Times, Michael Prowse wrote: "I recommend a subversive tract, Separating School & State by Sheldon Richman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank... . I also think that Mr. Richman is right to fear that state education undermines personal responsibility..." Sheldon's articles on economic policy, education, civil liberties, American history, foreign policy, and the Middle East have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, The American Conservative, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The Freeman, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, Liberty magazine, and other publications. He is a contributor to the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. A former newspaper reporter and senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sheldon is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He blogs at Free Association. Send him e-mail.