slave and free according to paul....
As Murphy's law would have it, after I got laid off and we lost our health insurance my wife and I have had a number of health issues arise that have cost us in the tens of thousands of dollars, and we have a number of things, especially dental, that we are just not dealing with until we have insurance and more income again. Such is more than just a pain in the ass.
There was a time before kids when we talked about leaving the U.S. We wish to God we had now. Our friends in the UK have a level of economic stability we will never have here, in large part because medical conditions are not something which will lead them to bankruptcy so easily as here.
Part of this experience has involved both of us making use of the local "Church Health Center" which has solidified in my mind what a God awful nightmare it would be to have to rely on Christian charity to get healthcare. The services there have rarely risen above the level of useless, and we still have to pay for them, though we have learned that it is almost always more cost effective to put a few hundred dollars on a credit card for real health care, not knowing how we will pay it off, than it is to spend 40 or 80 bucks or whatever they charge us sliding scale that week for the charity health care.
1. If a "right" to health care requires slavery, then quite obviously a "right" to having police, and interstates, and a military, and state parks, and state funded medical research, and a trademark office, and many such other things also requires slavery. The Paulies will of course assert that there is this magically immutable piece of paper ratified 224 years ago which leaves the state with the right to sometimes take things away from me to suit its ends in a few situations, which in those cases presumably is not slavery, but does not give it the right to do so in other situations. Uh, how this in any way relates to a meaningful use of the term slavery is beyond me. If the government may kick my door down when I refuse to move in a case of immanent domain, I can't see how this is any less slavery in this loosey goosey use of the term than forced universal health care is. I did not choose to be born into a society with a magical immutable document which grants the state the right to enforce immanent domain rulings. I wish the hyper free market libertarian people who call me a hypocrite for being a communist who uses a computer and the internet would go the route of the old Catholic Worker hero Eamonn Hennessey and stop using roads.
2. A curious thing. A number of libertarian folks I know expressed contentment at me receiving unemployment when I was laid off because I had (or rather my employers had for me) paid into unemployment insurance for many years. Thus I was getting a return on money I had put in. But when these same folks found out I took government grants to go to school, there was the usual libertarian disgust. Again, do these people not drive on government roads? But aside from roads we might focus on the incredibly sophomoric view of "what is mine" or "what I have coming to me" involved in the sort of assumptions typically made by libertarians on these issues.
Behind the assertions made by libertarians there is the underlying conviction that there are clear delineations to be made with regard to what is mine, what I have rightly earned, and what is rightly due me in our finance/credit driven late capitalism. Rubbish.
I have worked for 3 large corporations in my lifetime, one among the 200 largest privately owned businesses in the country, one a publicly traded Fortune 100 company, the other publicly traded and in the Fortune 500. At all three of those corporations any observer of average intellect could quickly observe that pay did not at all correspond to performance or quality of work, especially in management positions. In one company I worked for a department head was promoted to a vice president position because of work that had been done by two staff members under him (neither of which was me, by the way), both of whom he did not hire but had inherited from his predecessor. He took enough credit for the work to get the promotion, the people who actually did the work got nothing - no increased wage, no increased Christmas bonus.
That sort of story happens over and over and over again in American business life. The people who succeed at making the most money are generally not the brightest or the most talented or the most productive. Generally speaking, they are the most ruthless and ambitious and are among those with the prettiest faces and most practiced in the arts of corporatist charm. I worked in the mail room of a large corporation (the private one) and all of the managers in the engineering department went golfing each Friday afternoon (weather permitting) with their VP (when the weather was bad they went to an indoor computer golf range place with a bar). When the VP there was being moved to take over a sister company and he needed to be replaced, his replacement (which he picked), was the manager who was his long time golf partner in the Friday afternoon games. Everyone in the department, as well as people out of the department who had no reason to be jealous, remarked that the new VP was the dumbest and least productive of the managers in the department, but he was the best golfer. This sort of thing is how business in America works at almost every level. If you think otherwise you are fooling yourself.
I have also worked, indeed spent most of my adult like working, for small family owned businesses. You know - the sort of businesses that often have to actually pay taxes because they don't have as much means to shelter their money from taxation in the manner large corporations do. The one I worked fulltime at here in Memphis before my layoff, and now work partime at, is typical - the business was started by a man with a utility job he worked during the day. At night he came home and made chandeliers, literally bending brass tubing over his knee. He was hardworking and talented. His wife then sold the lights out of their living room during the day. Nice story of American entrepreneurial spirit, right? Uh, yeah, but it ain't the whole story. The man who did the knee bending came from Southern aristocracy, but his family had lost everything after the Civil War and had been poor for three generations. Still, in the South coming from a "good family" means you can marry into another one, even if your "good family" has no money and hers does. Hers did. Memphis elite of the highest caliber.
So when our hardworking man is spending his nights making lights, daddy-in-law is telling all of his elite friends and associates they have to go buy some for their homes and businesses. In keeping with the rules of Memphis society they do so. And the lighting business takes off. But to say it took off because of hard work is only part of the story. It came to be worth many millions because of a social connection that most people have no access to. And in not a long period of time some of those same lights would be made in sweat shop conditions in Memphis (the rest made in sweat shop conditions elsewhere). When the knee bender dies, his wife would have to come in and sign checks and she would literally break down crying the first time she did it, upon seeing how little her employees made. Everybody got a couple dollar an hour raise - which wasn't bad in the 90s, but brought a lot of folks up to just a little past minimum wage. It would take the founder's grandson to fight with his father to get wages at all comparable to what one might make in a non union Toyota plant in Mississippi or somesuch. The second generation of this company revealed little business talent, certainly no skill at making or designing or selling lights beyond the means to do those things which he inherited, but the company continued to grow because by the time the founder of the company died it was an establishment among wealthy people in Memphis. If you have money in Memphis, you go buy your lights there.
Another small business I worked for had an owner who was adept at business, and pulled himself away from almost certain business demise a number of times by securing deals which brought in needed income at the last second. But this man married a lady who grew up on Martha's Vineyard, and her father, of east coast old money, had to bail out my boss several times over the years, and, again, had it had not been for this father-in-law I never would have worked at that business as it would not have existed. While this same man (the owner) was able to charm people into seemingly implausible deals from time to time, he had no sense whatsoever when it came to many practical things. For instance, he always insisted that we take the company van to the Ford dealership the company had bought it from. We put a lot of miles on the van, and it was in the shop all the time. Eventually some of us noticed that the van seemed to be going back to the shop for the sames things over and over again. Finally one of the managers got out all of the receipts from van repairs for the previous 3 years, and discovered that in 3 years time the company had paid more in repairs than they had paid for the van itself. Considerably more.
In the companies I have worked for, taken as a whole with the occasional exception, I believe I can say without hyperbole or exaggeration that I have contributed far more to the company than the wage I earned - I made a lot of money for them. I worked hard to make mediocre men, whether owners or managers/execs, richer, while I got very little in the way of financial security or a means to provide for myself long term. In most cases, the owners or managers/execs I worked for provided the company/corporation little in terms of real net gain. They have mostly been window dressing.
I realize that this is all anecdote, but I have been fortunate in my life to have worked in a number of settings which brought me into contact with a lot of working people outside of my own workplaces, whether travelling to institutions to buy books, or dealing with designers, retail sales folks, and other shop foremen when I was foreman of a small metal shop. Perhaps my own workplace experiences and the vast majority of workplaces I have visited are anomalous, but I am inclined to think that my experiences are rather typical. Having read a lot of American labor history in recent years only increases the strength of this inclination.
Thus when someone talks about it being stealing or "slavery" to tax people like these owners, managers, and execs I describe above in order to pay for health care for folks like me, I can't but scratch my head. I would not in that case be stealing, nor would anyone or any agency be stealing on my behalf. I am getting what is due me. I've spent the bulk of my life working for these and their kind, allowing them to live lives of comfort and ease in return for little more on their part than polished social skills and a pretty face. And while my caricature of the contemporary man of business may not apply to all - anyone who makes income on the financial markets, or "secures" their wealth on the financial markets, is making or securing wealth via means which necessarily result in wealth distribution not correspondent to skill and productivity. This means that virtually everyone in America today who has considerable wealth has made it and/or secures it through means which involve doing what has been done unto me - taking the labor of the little guy in order to fill the pockets of people who don't earn what they make by way of a labor that in any meaningful way corresponds to their wealth. Of course there are exceptions, and the aggregate of those exceptions tends toward the smaller of entrepreneurs. Thus it would seem an appropriate tax scheme might be one which hits the CEO of Goldman Sachs a hell of a lot harder than, say, my friend Henry who sells books out of his home. But current tax structures are not so ordered.
Aside from the moral equations either side wants to use, in the end it is about the securing of interests. As Buffet put it, it is class war and his side is winning. The Rand Pauls of our social order are working to secure the interests of a minority whose wealth and ease is secured because of the work of a majority. Naturally, I am concerned with the interests of my own family, and the families of my friends, and the interests of those folks requires conflict with the interests of those for whom Rand Paul is an operative.
In this sense, there is one level of discourse I am comfortable with in the language of the libertarian. There is scarcity in the world. There are limited resources. Because of this reality, economic dispossession will always be with us. The question is who is going to be gaining from the dispossession. In the current neo-liberal order we see clearly where the lines of dispossession are occurring throughout the world, if we bother to look. Those with my economic convictions want to see dispossession occur for a decidedly different set of people. And let's face it - most people endorse a given approach to economic life for reasons that have to do with what they will believe to be best for them and their families. Find me a person who embraces an economic ordo that they believe will hurt them. In prior ages we had aristocratic Fabians, but such persons are harder and harder to find as mass capitalism plays out its hand. Yes, one sees many working class folks in America embracing Rush Limbaugh nonsense, but this is only because they have drunk the kool aid which has convinced them of such lies as tickle down economics still bringing about good jobs and the like.
3. When talking to Christians who are libertarians, there is an unfortunate moral/spiritual line of thought which enters the discussion. Namely, that when the state acts as the redistributor of wealth, the opportunity for charity is diminished. Again this strikes me as specious in the same manner of my roads above. If we want to be childish in our embrace of truisms, we should note that by providing a military to protect me, the state denies my neighbor some potential opportunities to lay down his life defending me from the attack of a foreign army. And there is no greater love than laying down your life for a friend, right?
If I were again to sink into anecdote I would note that in my experience in countries with universal health care, local Christian charity work involves less collecting of money than American Christian charities do, but more in the way of volunteering of time, but that is just a tangent. Another thought that comes to mind is that this is another arena in which the libertarian irrationally asserts that large government efforts are somehow always and of necessity more inhuman than large nonprofit or forprofit efforts. I wish some of these folks could experience health care at both my local public health clinic here in Memphis and then at the local large charity clinic so as to note the difference in quality of care. Such an experience might incline them to change their minds on the government always worse regurgitations, though I doubt many libertarians have minds capable of change.
The truism about the loss of potential charity is an assertion with some huge blinders on. No doubt certain opportunities for individual volitional charity are lost, but then again, opportunities for individual self-righteousness increase exponentially when government redistribution is gone. The Church Health Center here in Memphis never ceases to miss an opportunity to assert its self-importance and to treat its clients in a condescending manner in which they are informed of how wonderfully Christian the folks providing them "help" are and how wonderful the donors are. Having lived and worked in a homeless shelter for a year and grown up involved in Christian charities of all sorts I think this rather the norm. Christians who give the sort of money it takes to keep such formal charities running tend be very assertive about their giving and seemingly incapable of not letting the right hand know what the left it doing.
When the state taxes you in order to provide health care for others, you can know that some of your hard work goes to provide medical care for others. But you are not special in this manner, as everyone else who works is giving in the same manner. No one is singling you out for your charity, no one is giving you a pat on the back. You don't get that good feeling you get when you spend one afternoon every 3 months at a soup kitchen providing for the poor. And never mind that a single payer health care system could potentially be much better run and much more efficient than a bunch of various and sundry Christian charity programs if such a government program could ever exist free from corporate domination (such as we see with Obamacare) and be allowed to flex government muscle against corporate interests. Never mind that when you get outside the arena of homeless sheltering and rehab programs and the like and start dealing with issues pertaining to long term support for the working poor Christian charities often have a notorious reputation among other nonprofits dealing with those groups.
Charity seeks what is best for others. It does not concern itself with the contribution/role it plays in bringing about that best for others outside of a concern for the other person. But this whole "denial of potential charity" line seems to assume that all human interaction takes place in some sort of anti-human vacuum of social exchange. As if I don't have the opportunity of being charitable if the government is coordinating charitable acts. Come with me to the VA hospital sometime and let us watch the different nurses there in action. The nurses working on a given floor are all making in the same ballpark in terms of salary. They are all working for the government. But the degree to which charity is involved in their work varies considerably. Somehow I think the capacity of humans to have charity toward others would survive a single payer health care system just fine. I have never noticed a decided poverty of charity among practicing British Christians in comparison to practicing American Christians.
To be continued...