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Recently, Portfolio magazine looked at the potential spending for this year’s presidential election and settled on a probable figure of $1 billion. That, Portfolio rightly noted, is a serious bargain.

Porfolio’s reasoning is that, comparatively, $1 billion buys a lot more than, say, Microsoft’s $500 million to promote Vista. One gets you written into the history books and access to the purse strings to the most powerful nation on earth; the other, a substandard OS upgrade that will be replaced in a half-decade But by these guidelines, the Presidency is nothing compared with the bargain that is health care.

Knee replacement surgery, even at its most expensive, runs about $40,000. Compare that to $20,000 for a new Chevrolet Malibu. One buys you the ability to walk again. The other, a rental-agency-quality car.

In an even more extreme example: Appendectomies run about $35,000 (and as low as $14,000). Compare that life-saving dead-without-it surgery to one academic year at Sarah Lawrence College: $36,088.