Economically Stuck

 
 
Many Republicans feel that all buying and selling or any
transaction that involves trading goods and services must be accomplished
through structures that meet their definition of free market or capitalist
activities.

cap·i·tal·ism

noun ˈka-pə-tə-ˌliz-əm, ˈkap-tə-, British also kə-ˈpi-tə-

Definition of CAPITALISM

: an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and
by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly
by competition in a free
market

They obviously feel that things like health care are
products and that if the government coordinates even something as necessary for
all citizens as health care, services must be provided within the system of
capitalism as recognized by Conservatives in America. First of all I am not at all
sure that health care services count as “capital goods”. In the second place,
our Constitution does not limit us to any particular economic system. I read the
Constitution and I did not find the spot where it said that all business in
America must be conducted by private owners or corporations. I do know that the
very invocation of the word socialism strikes terror in the hearts of many
Americans. I suppose bad things have been done in the name of socialism, but
capitalism has not always produced absolute fairness or compassionate behavior
either.

Does Social Security qualify as socialism? I always thought
it was a retirement plan that the government administered for the people. Since
we are “the people”, and since “the people” are the government of America, I
fail to see how Social Security qualifies as socialism.

Do Medicare and Medicaid qualify as socialism?

so·cial·ism

noun ˈsō-shə-ˌli-zəm

Definition of SOCIALISM

1

: any
of various economic and political theories advocating collective or
governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and
distribution of goods

2

a: a system of society or
group living in which there is no private property

b: a system or condition
of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the
state

3

: a
stage of society in Marxist
theory transitional between capitalism and
communism and
distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done

 

As socialism is defined here, our public health care
programs, although administered by the Federal government, do not qualify as
socialism. Medical services do not qualify as either a means of production or a
distribution of goods, except as interpreted by the private health insurance
industry who is trying to turn medical care into an assembly line. The American
people voted to have certain aspects of health care administered at the Federal
level because it promised the lowest costs. Health care should not be a
for-profit business many of us feel. Since we, the people, are the government,
we own the public health care system. It does not belong to a government that
is separate from the people and therefore does not qualify as socialism.

Societies learned through sad experience that a certain
level of support is necessary to keep society free of disease and that it is
humane to ameliorate misery so that everyone has some level of creature comfort
in his/her daily life. We have learned that the free market cannot be expected
to provide for these basic societal niceties since there is little or no profit
to be gained by providing these supportive services. If we can harden our
hearts to ignore the sorrowful lives some children were forced to live when
governments did not provide a basic safety net, then we can stop offering a
basic standard of living to those who dwell at the bottom of the economic
scale. Of course, we will have to live with children who are sick, improperly
clothed, and unhygienic, and we will probably live with more pests and a lot of
guilt. In these enlightened times every culture that can do so must and does
provide for the less fortunate members of the culture. I am stunned every time
I hear the GOP suggest that we get rid of the safety net and that we do so in
the name of forcing people to climb up out of the muck. That will not happen
and they know it. It is possible that charitable groups and churches will try
to take on these tasks, but they weren’t very successful in Charles Dicken’s
London and I doubt that they would have more success today. That is a very
uneven and haphazard way to provide aid. Some things need to be administered at
the Federal level and that does not make us socialists. That term is thrown
around way too often to incite fear and to bring everyone back into line as
what the Republicans would describe as good little capitalists.

America is a free society. I don’t know why we have to limit
ourselves to only one economic model. We should be free to apply the model that
fits the needs of the people at that time. We will usually chose capitalism
when it comes to straight business, but not necessarily for services that are
basic to keeping a healthy and civilized nation. We are stuck economically,
stuck with a choice that is being parsed in terms from the 30’s and 40’s and
which may be too limiting in light of modern needs and population numbers.

The Republican Party is guilty of trying to dictate to the
America people that there is only one correct way to conduct all business and
service in our nation and they supposedly are doing this in the name of
democracy. They are doing this, in part, by attaching emotional labels to the
programs Americans use to insure that poor children and their families will
have a floor under their poverty and the programs Americans use after they are “excused”
from their careers and allowed to spend some time “in the pasture” before they
die. If you put on a nasty face and lump all these programs together under the
category of “socialism” or worse you are trying to dictate how the people
achieve their service goals. By placing our choices in taboo categories you are
hoping to achieve a totally separate outcome, small government, which attempts
to take compassion and pragmatism out of government because they are “too
expensive.”

Does anyone else see the contradiction in this? I know some
of us see the greed in this. If our nation is so poor that we truthfully cannot
provide for our poorest members and our seniors and our sick then it would seem
that this dire condition would be clear to all of us and not just the GOP. Is
the American economy really bankrupt? Is it true that we cannot afford
compassion? If so we may have to admit that our nation is in decline. Or is
this just another case where we are stuck because we are so busy looking backward
we can’t see what’s ahead?

Thinking Inside the Box

We are all, as American citizens, concerned about the fiscal
problems our government is experiencing. After all it is the people’s
government, our government and our fortunes rise and fall as the fortunes of
our government rise and fall. Right now we get the sense that we are all
falling. We also do not feel that all is lost. We believe we will somehow right
the “ship of state” and once again our country and its citizens will prosper,
but we also believe that our fortunes may depend on the decisions we and our
government make right now.

We have, through our recent election, discarded the notion
that continuing to make more money available to the wealthiest Americans will
solve our economic woes. We have also discarded the notion that we need to
adopt a “tough love” approach and push all of our poorest Americans out of the
safety net to fend for themselves. We have accepted that our safety net costs
are creating stresses on our federal budget, stresses that will get worse with
time. We have accepted that we will have to accept some changes in this safety
net it we are to keep it at all.

We would all like to contribute to improving the American
economy so that it meets our own needs and keeps us competitive with the rest
of the world’s economies. But many of us cannot afford, at this moment, to part
with any more of our money in the form of levied taxes. However, in times of
need, the American people often pitch in and help. Look at Katrina, look at
Sandy, or even look at the money Obama raised in his recent campaign from
individual donations. Perhaps we need to think outside the box and put a check
mark inside of a box.

You know how there is a spot on our tax forms where we can
contribute a few or many dollars to fund Presidential elections? What if we had
a similar spot on our tax forms where we could donate to a fund for health
care, a fund for Social Security, a fund for education, and a fund for
infrastructure? If people can choose where their dollars will be spent they may
be willing to contribute out of their own pockets to save or enhance programs
they favor.

We often raise a lot of money this way in times of disaster.
This time our disaster is our national economy. People may be willing to
volunteer their financial assistance, even though they might not be happy if
they were required to contribute. Health care dollars could be used to keep
Medicare and Medicaid functional and to prevent it from eating up our budget.
Social Security monies could be used to extend the life of the Social Security
program. Educations monies could be dispersed among the states and earmarked
for specific initiatives (like buying computers). Of course, if our wealthiest
Americans take on infrastructure we might not need a fund dedicated to that
purpose, but if they did not then we could also have a fund that would be
dispersed among states to upgrade infrastructure.

We still need to work on our safety net. There are people
who are able to scam the system. There are doctors who will sign forms that
ascribe a disability to people who don’t actually have one. There are people
with disabilities who could be trained to do a job that will work around their
disability. Our Congress can continue to look for ways to cut health care
costs. If we combine a bottom-up and top- down approach to our safety net we
may be able to keep it almost intact.

Tough Love

The last thing I saw last night was Chris Christie, Governor of New Jersey, giving the keynote address at the Republican National Convention. Mr. Christie was chosen because he has a reputation as a no-nonsense, shoot-from-the-hip kind of politician.  He really stuck to the rather extreme views that the Republicans like to espouse these day, but he didn’t use the rhetoric that we have heard over and over as the GOP held the House of Representatives hostage. At least he sounded original as he shared his mom’s advice that winning respect is more important than winning love. Since Mitt Romney is not getting high scores in likeability polls he will have to go for respect. While Mr. Christie may inspire that “tough love” respect he spoke about, I am not sure that Mitt Romney does.
This is the party that reveres unborn children so much that they cannot back abortion even in the case of rape or incest. These Christians are sincere, but misguided in the same ways that missionaries often were. They have not walked in the footsteps of all the women in the world. They have not experienced the many, many ways men or life can victimize or exert power over women. Perhaps they even still believe that women are meant to assume a role that is supportive to her man, but the slightest bit subordinate also. Whatever. You would think that a party that fights so hard to save unborn children would fight equally hard for children who are already born.
I don’t think the safety net for the poor was only intended for unfortunate adults. I believe that the plight of poor children in America was a strong consideration when programs like Welfare, WIC (Women, Infants, Children), Medicaid, Subsidized Housing, and Food Stamps were created. I know that we have American adults who have learned to game this system so that they will not have to go to work, but, from what I have seen, if you scratched the surface of many of these “malingerers” you would find a person who because of psychological difficulties or low IQ may be unsuited for many kinds of employment. Since we are a country of free people we have no system in place to match people’s skills to available jobs, but perhaps there are jobs that are suitable for some of these adults. However, it is the children of these parents who will suffer if we do as Mr. Christie and the Republicans suggest and discontinue these programs. It will certainly save our government money and balance budgets and even lower the deficit, but what is it that our government will be doing? How will it still be the government of “we the people”? We will find, if we dismantle the safety net, that within a decade we will have to reinstate it. The Republicans think we will look like a third world nation if we don’t deconstruct the safety net; I believe we will look like a third world nation if we do.
Our challenge, I believe, is to revise the safety net; find simpler and better screening procedures, ways to make sure poor children benefit from any funds we give parents, more money spent on training programs to help parents stuck at the bottom imagine a more self-sufficient future for themselves and their families. Use the social service network to brainstorm ways to give more targeted support and cut back on the features that invite abuse. The party that defends the contents of a woman’s womb should also be relied on to support children who are already living. The days of looking to churches and communities to take care of the poor are over, although our communities already try to keep up. With all our ingenuity can’t we find a way to reform rather than dismantle the safety net that prevents many American children from the horrors of less enlightened times.

Why the Mitt Romney/Paul Ryan Plan Won’t Work

What’s wrong with vouchers for Medicare for American’s under the age of 55. Maybe nothing. Maybe a lot. We are hearing that everyone would be handed a voucher that would pay for the second most expensive Advantage Plan (offered by private insurers.) We just had a system that depended on private insurers. It did not cover people with a “pre-existing condition” (that’s pretty vague, a pimple could be a pre-existing condition), or people who needed expensive long term care, or people who were too poor to buy insurance, or people who were unemployed. Eventually insurers started to place “lifetime caps” on patients who were too risky and pricey to insure. People were turned into things, like houses, trucks, cars; or disasters like fires and floods. Since private insurance companies must make a profit, they will always (and should always) try to minimize risk. How do you minimize risk in the case of human health? You make crazy rules that are more and more restrictive like rules about what we can’t do if we want to be covered (i.e. can’t smoke, can’t eat sugar, can’t eat fat, can’t gain weight, can’t drink soda) – and where will that end?
The voucher plan didn’t originally include a public option, but I hear it does now. With the newest incarnation of the plan if you wish you can keep your government Medicare insurance. Critics of this plan suggest that this is where you can expect to find everyone who can’t meet the requirements of the private health insurers. This will not make the public option look very appealing to those who are essentially healthy seniors and they will stay away from it in droves, putting private insurers right back in their very powerful and profitable driver’s seat where senior health care is concerned, and will give them, once again, a monopoly on the health care business in the U.S.
I am not against business. I am not even against profits, although I am opposed to gouging. I just can’t remind everyone enough about how long it took us to learn that unregulated capitalism, while supremely prosperous for an individual who is successful in business, will always have a tendency to abuse workers in order to buck up profits. There is no moral imperative in captialism, only the motive to turn a profit. I also am not saying that that are not moral capitalists – there are, but the practice of capitalism does not require that the Golden Rule be applied.
Interestingly enough, Gail Collins, writing on the opinion page in the New York Times, reminds us that the real loser in the Ryan plan is Medicaid, which will change beyond recognition. In the interests of smaller federal government Ryan suggests that the federal government give “block” grants to states for Medicaid and that states then devise their own Medicaid programs. Many people think this would be OK because they believe that only poor people use Medicaid. However, this is not the case. When seniors need long term care, nursing home care, care for serious or final conditions they are switched from Medicare to Medicaid. This means that any one of us could be subject to the whims of our own state’s government when our health is likely to take all the fight out of us and leave us as possible victims. Right now states are experiencing less flexibility in dealing with their financial issues than we find available at the federal level because they can’t print money. If you hand them a block of money without a lot of regulations for how it can be spent, would you like them to have control over your health care, right when you are most frightened and sick?
There is much to consider in this decision. Everyone agrees that we must do something but just because Paul Ryan has come up with a ready-made plan does not mean that it is the right plan for Americans. It will put us not just back where we started, but we would be in worse shape than previously if you add Medicaid into the picture. We have a little time to look for other options. I always wanted an all public option, but I am coming to believe that right now this would leave too many people unemployed to be an appropriate choice. In spite of the fact that Republicans see Obamacare as anathema, Obama still left the private insurance companies with a big role in our health care. Obamacare seems bipartisan in that it is a plan that requires that all parties compromise their health care views, and in that it tries to walk a middle line between public and private.

A Soul-less America? Really?

Many Americans believe that programs like the Welfare program, or Medicaid, or subsidies for low-income housing or Pell Grants for low-income students and a number of programs designed as safety nets against hardship, homelessness, and a cycle of poverty are actually perpetuating the cycle of poverty. In an article called “The Anti-Establishment Strategy” by Thomas B. Edsall from the New York Times on Christmas Day, Mr. Edsall, who is talking mainly about Mitt Romney’s stand on these issues, reveals a number of important pieces of this growing “movement”. He quotes Martin Gilens, a professor of politics at Princeton, in “Why Americans Hate Welfare”, “In large measure, Americans hate welfare because they view it as a program that rewards the undeserving poor.” He summarized the General Social Survey  conducted from 1972-2010 “[b]oth blacks and whites were highly critical of the effects of welfare, with strong majorities of both races agreeing that the program encourages ‘people to work less’ – 73.7 in the case of whites, 74.1 percent in the case of blacks.
Mitt Romney is campaigning against spending to help the poor. He is against Social Security and feels that health care dollars should be passed on to the states and health care programs should be designed and administered at the state level.
In 2010, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, programs for the poor, seniors and children represent about a fifth of the federal budget:

786 b.          Medicaid
                     Children’s Health Insurance
                     Earned-income tax credit
                     SSI for elderly and disabled
                     Unemployment Insurance
                     Food Stamps
                     School Meals
                     Low-income Housing
                     Childcare programs for abused and neglected children
21 b.            Pell college grants for low-income students
 7.2 b.          Headstart

                    
Romney said the following (as quoted by Mr. Edsall) in an op-ed published on December 19th in USA Today,
Over the past three years, Barack Obama has been replacing our merit-based society with an Entitlement Society. (me – all this in three years, wow)
If we continue on this course for another four years, we may pass the point of no return. We will have created a society that contains a sizable contingent of long-term jobless, dependent on government benefits for survival. (me – then let’s find some jobs fast)
Government dependency can only foster passivity and sloth. (me – gross overgeneralization)
The Republican Party and now Republican candidate Mitt Romney have been pedaling this nonsense for quite some time now. Our grandparents and great grandparents lived in an America without any programs to assist the poor. Did everyone have a job then? Do we really believe that discontinuing these programs will put everyone to work? We know that is not true. We know that there are always poor people and that there probably always will be. Do you think all seniors will have tolerable retirement years if we take away the Social Security program (which we pay for)? Do you think all seniors can work until they are 75 or 80, that there are even enough jobs for all seniors to work this long? Do you think someone will care for neglected and abused children if we have no agencies dedicated to this? How has this worked for the developmentally disabled and the mentally ill? Will we really be able to live lives surrounded by the poor struggling to survive and ignore their plight? Will we be able to live happy and productive lives amid the misery of others?
We have already answered these question. We choose not to live in the Middle Ages (also called the Dark Ages). We choose to live in a society enlightened by history and compassion. It is expensive, and some people do take advantage of the benefits we provide, but most who receive aid truly need it. We do have more poor people than ever, but they are not poor because the programs for the poor are so great that they quit jobs to join the ranks of the poor. The newly poor are victims of the economic shifts we have experienced over the past 3 or 4 decades. They will not be poor forever. I do not believe that we are creating a dependent “underclass” that will choose to languish in poverty forever. The answer to those who are taking advantage of the system or who have become “institutionalized” by the system is not to drop the entire system but rather to pay special attention to these two groups and help them move on. The answer to those who rip off the system is aggressive programs to unearth fraud.
The GOP or the media did not do us any favors by inventing the term “entitlements”. It has a negative connotation that deliberately lumps all programs together and makes it sound like people are getting something for nothing which American people feel is wrong. Plunging the world back into times when being poor was almost criminal and the poor had to put up with conditions that were unsanitary and squalid will not improve the lives of any of us.
Mr. Edsall ends his article with the statement that “We are headed toward an ideological confrontation over the next 11 months of an intensity rarely seen in American political history.” But I say we have already answered this question and we should not be wasting time pursuing a course that proved too awful to contemplate long ago. Why have to relearn a lesson our forefathers had already learned? Say no to this “soulless” view of America.