A typically shallow anti-cosmetic surgery rant was published recently on Wesley Smith's otherwise entertaining blog, Secondhand Smoke, in which Smith speaks to the proposed federal tax on aesthetic procedures:
…If I believed that taxing services and products with low/negative social utility was proper, I would enthusiastically support this tax. Cosmetic surgery sucks tremendous amounts of medical resources out of our strained medical sector for (usually) frivolous purposes–and just as harmfully, promotes a very destructive and unrealistic standard of beauty, leading to much pain and destructive behavior. But I don’t, so I oppose the tax.
Comments from readers are in some cases very interesting. To wit:
“Cosmetic surgery sucks tremendous amounts of medical resources out of our strained medical sector…” I must disagree, esteemed Wesley. Cosmetic surgery of the type we’re discussing is paid for entirely by the patient. It’s HIS (or HER) money, not “resources out of our strained medical sector.” It maximizes freedom to let him decide how to spend it. Keep in mind that Americans spend four times more money on pet food than they do on cosmetic surgery.
You also write “[cosmetic surgery is] for (usually) frivolous purposes–and just as harmfully, promotes a very destructive and unrealistic standard of beauty, leading to much pain and destructive behavior.” Again, I disagree. The standards of beauty, unrealistic or not, pre-exist the surgery, and will continue to exist even if the surgery ceased to be. The vast majority of patients are satisfied with the results, and credibly report that plastic surgery improves their quality of life. At heart, cosmetic surgery is not essentially different from cosmetics, hair dying, primitive ornamental scarring and tattooing, even couture. Since it has been around since pre-history, it must answer some deep-seated human need. We humans ARE exceptional creatures, as one of my favorite bloggers has noted.
Set aside concerns about the merits of elective cosmetic surgery for a moment and think about why it is so successful as a business. Here we have a complex surgical procedure that isn’t covered in any comprehensive medical insurance plan or government program, and yet it is affordable to middle class Americans. It wouldn’t be if it were so covered, it would be priced to support bloated insurance and government bureaucracies. You can make a similar observation about Lasik. We could learn a lesson from this about how ensuring that the medical marketplace were a truly free might make medicine affordable.
Read it all.