Is Capitalism Killing Mt. Everest Climbers?

Ever since Adam Smith published his famous The Wealth of Nations in 1776, economists have argued about markets.

Should they be given total freedom?

Or should they be constrained by governments?

Some, like Smith himself, believed an “invisible hand” controls capitalism from running out of control. For example, business owners will be motivated to raise the wages of their workers to keep them happy.

Others, like Bernie Sanders, a proclaimed socialist, thinks government must exert serious control to prevent rampant income inequality, non-competitive monopolies like Amazon and Facebook, and scant access to high quality healthcare.

My beliefs lie somewhere between Smith and Sanders.

Meanwhile, the recent news about tens of hikers dying as they ascended Mt. Everest exemplifies why Smith was dead wrong.

The government of Nepal sells permits for climbing Mt. Everest for $11,000. Nepal is an extremely poor country. A significant amount of its income comes from these permits, not to mention related  mountain climbing expeditions and activities. Until last week, and perhaps still, the Nepalese government did NOT require medical clearances for persons wishing to climb Mt. Everest.

Therein lies the problem.

Based on Los Angeles and New York Times reports, most of the deaths resulted from individuals who lacked the stamina to climb that greatest of all mountains. And, the amount of fitness required to even make it to base camp is incredible.

You need, at least, to be in excellent aerobic health, to tolerate low levels of oxygen, and to have enough muscular strength to climb cliffs.

You need sound balance to cross little planks used to bridge immense icy crevices. You lose your balance, and you fall thousands of feet to a horrific death. 

How does free versus constrained markets come into play?

Simple.

The Nepalese government needs the cash, and they have an ever-growing market of people, all around the world, interested in climbing Everest.

Those people, with motivations ranging from the heroic to the insane, want to climb it. They’ll beg, borrow, or steal to get the cash, send it to Nepal, and, whamo, they collect their permit.

No real market control there, resulting in people not being protected from themselves. I’m sure some of the inexperienced climbers contributed to the deaths of others. Therefore, legal constraints could protect from self- or -other injury.

I lean towards the libertarian, so governments must be careful to not constrain individual freedoms. However, requiring a complete physical,—validated in some way to prevent fraud—as part of the permit process to climb Everest seems like just the right amount of government intervention.

Noam Chomsky, an avowed anarchist, thinks laws should have an obvious basis to them.

Crosswalks, for example, save lives by protecting pedestrians. 

The US Tax Code, in contrast, which reads more than 18,000 pages and which no one fully understands, represents government control gone awry. 

Government should definitely control health care, preventing it from being purely profit-oriented. Months ago I posted on the various options health care reform could take. Here’s the link:

http://blog.alankarbelnig.com/government/the-three-types-of-universal-healthcare/

You know the insanity of our healthcare system now: 

No transparency, widely differing costs for services, and ever-increasing premiums with parallel reductions in coverage.

Returning to Nepal, some news sources suggest the government there is at least considering adding a more detailed medical certification for those seeking permits. If they do so, they will be demonstrating how governments can save lives. 

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Alan Karbelnig, PhD, ABPP

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