The Bush administration promoted a new vision for how we ought to see ourselves in this country called ‘the ownership society’ and it is my belief we have just been witnessing the dark side of what that vision means from the Bush reaction to New Orleans to our current financial struggles all across the country.
The idea of the “ownership society” was supposed to make individuals responsible for their own choices in health care, investments, and pensions so they could take responsibility for their own safety net. This would free the government and taxpayers from having to take care of other people. Perhaps based on that conservative notion that giving someone a helping hand only weakens their ability to fend for themselves. It is a sin of the weak willed that lead only to a softer nation of dependents. It allows politicians to make government run efficiently and pay for just the essentials, which seems to be an argument for keeping the war machine going.
It is supported by a belief that the free market is what keeps the wheels of the economy turning and the more stimuli we give to those at the top the more growth they will create. But what this current financial collapse has shown us is that treating the financial sector as wealth engine concentrates wealth in one sector and puts everyone else at tremendous risk. The rest of us can’t create enough growth if the wealthy hoard their money.
When the Bush-Cheney administration proposed to replace Social Security with a system of individually accumulated, individually owned, and individually invested accounts, my first thought was that its goal was to take the Social out of Social Security. It took a few minutes longer to realize that it also intended to take the Security out of Social Security.
But efficiency is not the issue here, at least not the main issue. The transfer of risk from social and private institutions to individuals transfers a burden, mainly from the strong to the weak. That is primarily an issue of equity. It will surely become more urgent in current circumstances, perhaps urgent enough to be seen as a central political issue. Suppose that the best way to relieve that burden is by sharing the risk through universal social insurance. The premium then has to be a tax, a tax on work or enterprise, or some productive activity, and such a tax is a distortion, a source of inefficiency, a true cost to society. What then? I know what Gosselin would say: a society that won’t pay a small cost to preserve equitable and fair treatment of, among others, the sick, the old, the unemployed, and the victims of natural disaster is not much of a society. Is that a minority view?
Can we afford the ownership society? I keep thinking about the much-needed reform to bring down the cost of our health care system. Most politicians talk about solutions that either cut government spending by pushing the cost on to individuals (you own it – it’s your problem) or they want to cover everyone at great cost to the government by continuing to pay private insurance companies to provide access through their cost bloated system. Insurance companies may employ excellent people who do their jobs efficiently but the companies they serve are expensive rationers of health care and add administrative costs creating a perverse payment system. They collect premiums that they pool into immense sums and decide how to dole out after paying CEOs excessive salaries, while denying patients access to the care they need.
To me it looks like we avoid a state run insurance plan because it looks like socialism in order to provide welfare to extremely greedy and inefficient corporations. Can we afford to continue? An analysis of what is keeping these expensive HMOs going is that they now are kept afloat by government contracts to manage public plans. I think it’s time to consider a change and finally figure out how we pool the money to serve everyone and not just a few. It may mean we save lots of money and won’t have to throw people out of their jobs to balance the budget.
As Jack LeMoult a writer and retired attorney, says in the Xenia Gazette,
Even though universal health insurance under a single-payer system would provide all Americans with medical, dental, eye care, and psychological treatment at a cost substantially lower than what we now pay for private insurance, we don’t care. We have been brainwashed by conservatives in the Bush Administration and in Congress who claim it would be “socialized medicine.”
Such thinking is shoddy and immoral. We have had Medicare for decades and it has not led us into socialism. On the contrary, the medical profession has thrived in under Medicare. Now it is time for Americans to start caring about one-another and provide Medicare for all of our people.
You might also find the link to this blog on tax fairness interesting.
Or this one on the decline in state revenue.
Here is a comment on state spending.