Friday, October 9, 2009

War, Recession, Health Care: What Can We Do?

What can we do about the war with Islam, the recession, the health care debacle, and other national emergencies in the U.S.? Quite a bit, actually, but it all starts with attitude.

“Oh, dear. What can we do?”

That, in essence, is the national debate…whether the subject is the recession that we needlessly provoked, the endless “chickens coming home to roost” war with Islam, the national shame of our health care industry, the steady degradation of the environment, or the wave of corruption among the commercial-financial-government elite.

The idea of reacting to these fundamental national problems with a sigh of “what can we do?” is of course to imply that these evils came from “somewhere else” and are by definition something beyond our control and, most importantly, NOT OUR FAULT!

  • It is thus “not our fault” that some Muslims finally got fed up after years of Western mistreatment and decided on a global campaign of terrorism to send us a message. We didn’t get the message. Hence, our old behavior continues, and we remain utterly unable to understand why military force is not working in Afghanistan…or Gaza or Somalia or Iran.
  • It is of course also “not our fault” that the two factions of the national party-for-the-conservation-of-elite-privilege cooperated back under Clinton (!) to destroy the New Deal safeguards against financial terrorism by big banks and thus paved the way for the recession. Hence, the members of that elite in Washington rewarded the members of that elite on Wall Street, the guys on Wall Street are happily gambling on life insurance derivatives (the old real estate-based derivatives having been, ah, “discredited”), and more guys on Main Street are unemployed every month.

OK. You get the idea.

So, what if we took responsibility and looked for solutions? One word on health care and another on the recession.

Health Care. The problem with the health care industry in the U.S. is that Americans, and particularly elite Americans (who profit), accept that phrase—health care industry—as legitimate. Health care cannot, in a decent society, be viewed as an “industry,” i.e., a business. Businesses are supposed to make profits. And that is exactly the purpose of the business of providing health care to Americans. To repeat, health care in America is highly successful; it does exactly what it is designed to do: it generates fat profits for the practitioners (insurance companies, drug companies, friendly politicians who get campaign funds). These profits are generated by methods with which every American is very familiar: by preventing the sick from getting insurance, by pushing the sick out of hospitals as fast as possible, by utterly ignoring elderly patients with cognitive problems and throwing them on the mercy of their untrained and probably working relatives (thus wrecking family after family). At least the wave of unemployment in the recession will give many more family members the time to care for these aged parents! Fixing the health care system requires throwing away the idiotic and immoral idea of a health care business and replacing it with the concept of universal health care as a basic human right.

The Recession. At a certain level, the problem is too little money in the hands of consumers because of too few jobs. We happen in the U.S. to have a crumbling infrastructure, inhumane central cities, and collapsing main streets in small towns. Hiring the 15 million unemployed to rebuild the country would resolve all the above problems, but that takes money. Where can we get it from? The answer is pretty simple: tax the most lucrative business in the U.S. (no, I don’t mean illegal narcotics): Wall Street gambling. Tax profits on derivatives (my thanks to Ralph Nader for advocating this idea). The law Congress should pass is provided below in its entirety:

All financial transactions of the general form known as “derivatives trading” or related transactions shall be taxed at a rate at least 50% greater than the income tax rate of the mean American worker, as calculated annually by the Congressional Budget Office.

In a very basic sense, the U.S. really is a democracy: we Americans have the system we designed. It does what we designed it to do. If we do not want a system that rewards political corruption; creates enemies; wrecks our environment; and generates obscene profits from the premature sickening, aging, and death of American citizens, then we have the option of designing a different system. Truly, we do. We have the skills; Americans frankly are rather badly educated, but we have the best academic establishment in the world and could choose to educate ourselves better. We have the money: although the average American is having an increasingly tough time, the total amount of money in the society is enormous (needing only to be spread more equitably and used for serious things like productivity rather than gambling on Wall Street, conspicuous consumption, and bombing everyone we don’t like). We have the resources. We have voted for corruption, recession, imperial conquest, bad capitalist (for profit) rather than good socialist (for society) health care, and dirty drinking water. We could, if we so chose, vote for the opposite and pay for its achievement.

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