Smile Politely

Rational distrust vs. irrational fear

Well, it seems the public option is suffering the same fate as an uninsured American with a major disease.  It is dying. Let’s review.

Most civilized countries have universal health care. Countries with universal health care generally pay less money and get better care than Americans do. Health care could be available to all Americans if, instead of paying health insurance premiums, employers and employees paid about the same amount of money in the form of a health care tax. In a world where facts matter, there is little debate that government-run health care has produced fine health care systems in modern, developed countries.

But universal health care was never an option in the current debate over health care reform. That’s because it can be called socialized medicine. That would be the same thing as socialism itself, and would make us just like the Nazis, who were also socialists. So, Americans want nothing to do with public health care, even though 59% of our health care system is already publicly financed and Medicare is one of our most successful and popular social programs. Nonetheless, if the government were to entirely administer health care, it would only be a matter of time before it would kill Baby Trig.

Instead, a watered-down “public option” to our current health insurance system was proposed. It is optional health insurance administered by the government. It would bypass expensive bonuses to health insurance executives and bypass profit to health insurance company shareholders.  Unfortunately, the public option was also politically unviable, because it too is the same as socialism and Nazism and also because Joe Lieberman represents a state filled with health insurance executives.

Here’s a sad story.  My sister was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. She had a lumpectomy and is now in the middle of her chemo treatment. She is doing pretty well. It seems like every time I call her, she is about to go out to a party. I accuse her and my brother-in-law of faking the whole thing for attention. Ha ha. My brother-in-law says they are not above that, ha ha, but he’d be happy to share his doctor bills with me to prove it. Ha ha. I say, as lighthearted as I can, too bad we don’t have universal health care, so you wouldn’t have all those bills. Ha ha. He says, yeah, it’s too bad we don’t have universal health care, because then no one would get treatment. Ha ha.

It is very depressing that my sister has cancer and is now saddled with large medical bills.  But it is only slightly less depressing that she and her husband have been convinced by hucksters that universal healthcare equals the death of anyone who is sick. I’m grateful my sister has a job with healthcare benefits and is getting appropriate treatment. I’m sad that fear of government is denying that to Americans who are not as fortunate.

I understand distrust of government. I really do.  Government does things like start dumb wars in Iraq.  Government killed hundreds of thousands of people during Communist purges.  Government sometimes allows lazy bureaucrats to ignore your well-being.

But I also don’t trust capitalism to automatically provide for the common good. The purpose of a company is to make a profit, after all. In countries with weak governments and strong capitalism, the only choices most people have are to work for long hours in substandard working conditions for a pittance.  In our country, if it is unprofitable to insure people who are likely to get sick, capitalism’s answer is to not insure those people and let them die. Companies choose profit over the public good because that is what they are designed to do.

It should be evident at this point that capitalism without government becomes economic slavery and government without a free market (of ideas and goods) becomes tyranny.  The problem isn’t the existence of one or the other, but that either will encroach on our freedom if it is allowed to become too powerful. We need both to balance each other out, because too much power in one place is inevitably corrupting.

So who is more powerful in America in the 21st century?  An unwieldy but democratically elected government or multi-national corporations in search of the next quarter’s profits? One way to answer this is to ask who is controlling whom. Government can tax corporations and put people in jail who don’t follow laws. On the other hand, corporations can buy members of congress in order to enact favorable laws and gut enforcement of the laws that do exist. In the end, unjust laws can be changed with enough effort. But corporations are under no obligation to enact just labor practices or economic conditions unless government forces them to.

It is true that many liberals distrust capitalism. But it is not true that liberals naturally trust government. Liberals just recognize government as the only thing powerful enough to curb the excesses of capitalism. I suppose the important thing is to be able to differentiate between rational distrust and irrational fear, whether we are talking about government or capitalism.

So, back to health care.  The line between rational distrust and irrational fear in the health care debate was crossed some time ago. That line is now a hazy mirage that we thirst for as we wander around in the desert of irrational fear. We are at the point where an optional insurance program is equated with a government takeover of medical care, all because it would be administered by government personnel.

If the situation were reversed, it would look like this:  Suppose Medicare exists for everyone and there is no private insurance.  Some people decide they would be better served by a for-profit, private insurance option. So they try to pass a law allowing for the existence of private insurance. Angry people show up at town hall meetings because they are convinced that private insurance will kill Baby Trig. A proposed law establishing the legality of private insurance is filibustered and dies, because people don’t want others to have that option.

But, of course, that’s crazy. Who would be so irrational as to block other people’s freedom to get the kind of medical insurance they want?

So, that’s where we are. Irrational fear killed the public option. Well, actually, money and power killed the public option, but they did it via fear and indoctrination.  There’s too much money to be made in the current healthcare system, and too much power at stake should one party succeed in creating a health care system that works well for everyone.

And in the end, this is the problem with government today. It’s not that government is too powerful. It is that government is too weak to accomplish the common good when the common good is at odd with moneyed interests.


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