One econ major, three (or more) opinions.

The government of Venezuela has tried to fix its markets for consumer goods, to make sure that ordinary people get what they need at a reasonable cost.

That approach probably sounded good at first to a lot of Venezuelan consumers, but the problem is that the government has created an artificial economic shortage of many goods and services, by keeping Adam Smith’s “invisible hands” — the forces that soften demand for costly goods and increase the supply of costly goods — from meeting.

Frank Bajak, a technology writer at the Associated Press, recently reported Jose Augusto Montiel, a resident of Venezuela, has helped other people in his country cope by writing a mobile device app that can help people tell one another when they see flour, sugar, milk, cooking oil and toilet paper for sale.

The “Supply Me” Android app has been downloaded more than 12,000 times, Bajak said.

Economists blame the shortages on “government-imposed price controls, while President Nicolas Maduro says greedy merchants are hoarding goods,” Bajak said.

Of course, something similar could start to happen in the U.S. health insurance market in a year or two.

When it comes to capitalism and free markets, I’m a pragmatist, not an  idealist.

I respect the fact that a frequent commenter here, Sunforester, is fervently, steadily in favor of free markets and against taxes, and thinks that taxes are immoral, but, in my heart, I just don’t feel as if taxes are immoral. I wish I could exempt people who do think taxes are evil from having to pay taxes, but I personally have no fundamental objection to the idea of paying taxes.

Along the same lines: I just don’t have any theoretical objection to the idea of government involvement in health care. My bias is that human governments (or government alternatives) have been involved in helping the sick about as long as there have been governments. To me, it seems as if, in the area of health care, capitalism itself is always competing with advocates of government intervention, religious institution intervention, and secular nongovernmental organization.

I just want to see as many people as possible get a reasonable amount of decent health care at a reasonable cost, with a level of government coercion that is not too noticeable, and without the thought that huge numbers of sick people are suffering horribly because no one could scrape up a few thousand dollars to pay their care.

From my perspective, the fundamental danger of governmental intervention is roughly the same danger that crops up when I try to use my primitive photo editing tools and primitive photo editing skills to get rid of the double chins and wrinkles in photos of myself.

First I use one tool to try to wash out the wrinkles and the double chin lines. But then the photo is too watery looking, so I have to try to copy and paste little blocks of skin texture from my actual skin. But then my face looks as if it’s made of bricks, and I have to go back and try to blur the lines between the bricks. Before you know it, I’ve discarded all changes and gone back to the original, sorry looking photo.

The government of Venezuela has run into a similar problem: It tries to substitute the judgment of a few government officials for the actions of hundreds of thousands of buyers and sellers, and, eventually, it messes everything  up.

On the one hand: That story reminds me of something. What was it? Oh, yes: The effort by the drafters of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) to set the new minimum medical loss ratio rules — and then to try to “fix” the damage those rules could do with the PPACA rate review rules. And to fix the damage the rate review rules could cause with still more rules — the essential health benefits (EHB) package rules. And so on and so forth. Seems complicated.

On the other hand: Economics is also complicated, and it’s really hard to know what a specific government policy will do.

Patients in some European countries with a lot more intervention in the health care market than we’ll have in 2014 get most of their medical care without putting up with terrible delays.

I have relatives in the Netherlands, for example, and they get into see providers much more quickly and easily than I do here in the United States.

On the third hand: It seems easy to envision a future in which AP runs a story about a hot new Android app by Jose Augusto Montiel: A program that helps consumers find a primary care doctor who still has checkup slots available — if you know who to “slip a little something under the table,” and how.

See also: