Welcome to Walmart Health
Need jumbo-size paper towels, family-size Oreo cookies, new underwear, and an X-ray on your collarbone? Head to your nearest Walmart. The retail juggernaut is making a push into the health care sector, looking to bring its everyday low prices to the medical realm, too.
Recently, the company opened the doors to its first Walmart Health in-store clinic in the suburbs of Atlanta, GA. The walk-in clinic offers primary medical, dental, vision, and even mental health care, staffed with medical professionals who can manage a whole host of tasks, from counseling to laboratory testing.
What makes this an attractive proposition is that you know exactly what you are getting and what you are paying for. For instance, a basic check-up will cost you $30 and a vision exam will be $40. Although Walmart has not officially announced any national rollout plans, the demand will inevitably go through the roof and the big-box retailer will have no other alternative but to invest in these clinics.
Across the country, there are many smaller medical clinics that provide the same type of service. These outfits will offer the most basic health care – check-ups, immunizations, X-rays, and more – and clearly list the price of every service. Many of these practices will also refuse to accept insurance and will only take cash.
No gimmicks, no headache-inducing paperwork, and no government bureaucracy. This is what health care is supposed to look like.
Planet of the Vapes
Lawmakers and bureaucrats are in panic mode after it was reported earlier this month that there have been more than 500 confirmed and probable cases of vaping-related illness in 38 states and one US territory. So far, out of 11 million vapers, eight people have died. As a result, the federal government is springing into action and it plans to ban all non-tobacco flavors of e-cigarettes.
Is this an overreaction? Yes.
Now that our schoolmarms have intervened into the personal lives of Americans, it turns out that vapers are now returning to tobacco cigarettes for their nicotine addiction. Many smokers have weaned off cigarettes to safer alternatives, but now that the state has decided it knows what is best, these people are going back to the cancer sticks to satisfy their nicotine cravings.
The other issue is that since retailers are beginning to no longer sell e-cigs, there will inevitably be a black market for them, potentially supplied with inferior devices and tainted and subpar substances. This means the government is creating criminals and causing potentially greater health concerns over a benign product than if it just stayed away.
Legendary economist Milton Friedman quipped that a “government solution to a problem is usually as bad as the problem and very often makes the problem worse.” When consumers ultimately turn to the black market and purchase devices and substances that will inevitably be inferior to what would be sold in an open market, people will get sick and potentially die. Should this happen, politicians will pad themselves on the back and tell the public, “See! We told you vaping is bad! We need more regulation! It’s time to declare war on e-cigs!” Meanwhile, these same bureaucrats do not realize that it was their prohibition that exacerbated the problem.
Raw milk, marijuana, paid sex, opioids, and now e-cigs – anytime the government steps in and thinks it is saving the people from themselves, it does more harm than good. Politicians need to learn to treat adults like adults and leave everyone alone.
Made in Swiss Haven
In one of the greatest motion pictures of all time, The Third Man, legendary character Harry Lime (Orson Welles), tells his best friend Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten):
“In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed. They produced Michelangelo, da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did they produce? The cuckoo clock.”
This may have been an insult to the Swiss, but if you’re an investor, you prefer peace over war. If you are an investor in today’s market, you want some sanity over the madness unfolding in Washington, Beijing, and Frankfurt. The market has an appetite for Swiss cheese.
As central banks begin easing monetary policy by slashing interest rates and going as far as relaunching quantitative easing, the Swiss National Bank (SNB) said nein, nein. Instead, even though the Federal Council slashed economic growth projections for 2019 by one-third, the SNB has decided to leave rates where they are, keep monetary policy the same, and wait until the financial crisis to act.
It is true that Bern does have subzero interest rates and policymakers have complained about having such a highly valued currency in the franc. Yet, the Swiss are still playing it smart by not going into a full-fledged meltdown by deepening negative rates and using unconventional tools to debase the franc. And this is why global investors are pouring into the safe-haven asset as the rest of the world loses its mind.
For now, institutional investors and passive traders want to park their money in an economy where there isn’t so much volatility, chaos, and uncertainty. Switzerland is that place – it always has been.
Free Markets Rule
The marketplace keeps showing that it is far superior to anything the government could achieve, whether it is health care or getting the people to quit smoking. What is interesting is that Walmart and e-cigarettes are typically the butts of jokes, but they have achieved a lot. The retailer has afforded us low prices on many products and vapers have had their lungs liberated from cancer sticks – the Swiss gave us that cuckoo clock Lime mentioned. So, if Walmart can sell us $99 wills, provide us with $30 checkups, and offer a three-disc set of Raymond Burr classics for a buck, then let’s celebrate the big-box retailer and hope it cures what ails us.