In his last State of the Union address, President Obama stated that “anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction”. I agree. The American economy has roared back from the Great Recession with 14 million new jobs, a ridiculously low unemployment rate, a booming stock market and 57 brand new American billionaires in 2015 alone.
The American people on the other hand are in a completely different boat. Almost a third of us are not working. Half of us have practically no savings and a record number is surviving on public assistance. Wages are stagnating and the middle class is shrinking. Student debt is skyrocketing and 20% of our kids live in poverty. Whereas in the immediate past the economy and the welfare of the people used to be one and the same, nowadays these terms have little if anything to do with each other.
The President did acknowledge that “the economy has been changing in profound ways” and therefore “a lot of Americans feel anxious”. To allay our collective anxiety, the President announced an unemployment program that will pay up to $10,000 to those who lose jobs to the economy fixing racket, money that can be used to retrain machinists, welders, builders and such, to flip burgers in the booming job market of the fixed economy. The anxiety reduction program will also ease the transition to a “work-sharing” economy, where lower wages and no benefits, augmented by public assistance, a.k.a. the Walmart and Uber models, are the new normal.
Health Care is about the Economy
After fixing the economy, our government is now full throttle ahead with fixing our health care. My expectations would be that health care will be fixed in very short order, with very similar results. Health care expenditures will plummet, uninsured rates will be near zero, quality measures based on cost and utilization will be stellar, and most people will end up with little if any medical care when they fall sick. To ease our anxiety, or in health care parlance, to provide us with “peace of mind”, everybody will be awarded a Medicaid managed care card, if you’re lucky, or a high deductible insurance exchange plan that kicks in after you go bankrupt.
In the midst of the previous century, when people talked about “the economy”, the term conjured visions of molten iron being forged, of combines sliding gracefully through oceans of golden wheat, of gigantic cranes towering over monumental construction projects, of dusty rugged Americans building and making with pride and determination, of former soldiers poring over text books, of men walking on the Moon. Today, “the economy” brings to mind images of stock tickers, conference rooms with sweeping views of Alcatraz or Central Park, fancy men in fancy suits getting in and out of black limos, and endless streams of brightly colored graphs, percentages and statistical trends. The economy is no longer about us.
Health care is no longer about us. Health care is about waste, fraud and abuse. Health care is about “bending the curve”. Health care is about global competitiveness of corporations. Health care is about carving up a $3 trillion opportunity. Health care is about private equity, mezzanine funding, return on investment, valuations and public offerings. Health care is about the economy, and the economy is no longer about us.
Perhaps this was never about us, but if “time is the fire in which we burn”, America was the one unique experiment where a group of people came together to protect each other’s rights to freely determine how they wish to burn. The idea spread a little bit, but not much, and now it is collapsing under the hubris of an Information Revolution, which looks more like a slow motion coup d’état to transfer control of the burning process from millions of hands to a global “digital assembly line” where physical objects, virtual algorithms and human beings are melded into one efficient production system. This is a kinder and gentler slavery nation.
John C. Calhoun
Historically, the enslavement process was physically harsh and cruel, because back then the work of a slave was physically harsh and cruel, and because the only tools available for recruiting and maintaining slaves were physically harsh and cruel. Today you give a guy an iPhone app and he willingly and painlessly joins the driving plantation. You give a guy a free Internet search tool and he unconsciously and painlessly joins the advertising plantation. This is a major improvement, since as grandma used to say, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, and from a respectable distance it looks like you’re generously feeding the dumb little critters.
The grand objective of slavery has always been the amassment of wealth by the magnificent few on the backs of the faceless many. The only things that changed over the millennia are the means by which this is accomplished, and the rhetorical subtleties used to justify the practice of slavery. Notably, health care has been playing an increasingly prominent role in the intellectual quackery employed by evil people towards their evil ends. As early as 1837, John C. Calhoun was extolling the superiority of health care benefits available to the enslaved, especially the compassionate palliative care at the end of life, when compared to the “forlorn and wretched condition of the pauper in the poorhouse”.
It never occurred to Mr. Calhoun that there ought to be a third option, that his own young country has challenged the world order by simply stating that all men are created equal, and challenged the most powerful King in the world, and his mighty armies, precisely so that those equally created men can be free men. But John C. Calhoun was not speaking about us. His oration was about the economy, and the economy thrives on servitude, pauperization, and wretchedness, mitigated only by the “kind superintending care” of masters. If John C. Calhoun were alive today, he would probably be running a billionaire foundation to help “all people lead healthy, productive lives”.
It must have never occurred to Dr. David Blumenthal either that 200 years after our Declaration of Independence, for a brief moment in time, we had a third option. After watching a Broadway show and perhaps reading one biography of Alexander Hamilton, Dr. Blumenthal found it necessary to write the strangest article in defense of the Hamiltonian version of Calhoun’s “superintending” care, which Obamacare essentially is, or aspires to become with the help of its equally superintending technology bonanza. The article is a case study in demagoguery and the building of alternate realities from partial truths and innuendos, which is how health care reform was and still is being advertised to the masses.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by Dr. Blumenthal’s admiration for Alexander Hamilton, because Alexander Hamilton was not about us. Mr. Hamilton had great misgivings about the “imprudence of democracy”. He admired the British aristocracy, and insisted with all his might that the “first class” of “the rich and well born” should be awarded a “distinct, permanent share in the government” to counterbalance the bad judgement of the masses, and to prevent change to the status quo. If Mr. Hamilton, the champion of strong central government run by financiers and corporations, were alive today, he would probably be equally smitten with what Dr. Blumenthal represents.
This Night in Iowa
Tonight in the great State of Iowa, we the people are kicking off the only peaceful process available to us to make health care, the economy, and the entire political process, about us. This year we seem to have a bountiful crop of candidates seeking greatness. Some are “rich and well born” asserting their Hamiltonian right to that “permanent share” in government. Many are lifelong corporate servants looking for the next step in their pitiful enterprise. And two are very different than the rest. Two are challenging the status quo, which is so near and dear to the “first class” and its vast infrastructure of minions and pundits, feeding at the commandeered public trough, and whose entire job now is to convince us that neither one of these two men are fit for office.
One is a career public servant, a man of principle, of lifelong held beliefs that health care should be about us, and the economy should be about us, and that central government should be by, of and for us. The other is rich and well born, a swashbuckling traitor to his “first class”, who realized that he cannot possibly have a great country when the great majority is enslaved. The two couldn’t be more different in personal style and fiery rhetoric, but at the heart of it all they both want to reclaim the “permanent share in the government” that was stolen from us by the “first class”, and unlike their corporate serving competitors, who say one thing and do another, neither man is accepting patronage from those who they aim to disempower on our behalf.
For decades the “first class” owned media and punditry, carefully nurtured the appearance of an “ideological divide” designed to keep us engaged in mortal combat over hyped minutia, while the enslavement process proceeded at a brisk pace in the background. Tonight, the people of Iowa have the opportunity to begin refocusing our sights on the real ball. This election is not about Republicans vs. Democrats, it’s not about Planned Parenthood or ISIS coming to kill us in little Toyota trucks, it’s not about men vs. women, blacks vs. whites, young vs. old, educated vs. uneducated or poor vs. less poor. This election is about all of us, it’s about being a nation of free people vs. a replaceable cog in the global “digital assembly line”, and it’s about our hard fought right to govern ourselves, centrally, locally and individually.
We can’t make health care about us until we make the economy about us, and we can’t make the economy about us until we make government about us, and we can’t make government about us until we make the political process about us. We can’t make the political process about us until we dethrone the “first class” from its permanent power perch, and deny the “rich and well born” the ability to buy every election and serve us with a nauseating mélange of sleek and polished John C. Calhoun disciples, promising “kind superintending care” for the rest of us.
Tonight Iowa will vote for Bernie Sanders, will vote for Donald J. Trump, or will vote for the status quo. These are our only choices in 2016. Choose wisely, America.
Margalit Gur-Arie is a THCB contributor based in St. Louis.