News of health reform is welcome, but I want to kill the messenger. Quickly, before it grows into an ungainly behemoth.
The simple fact that 30 miilion or more folks in the United States lack health insurance is enough to make me wonder whether this the best of all possible worlds is all it is cracked up to be. We can bail out billionaires too big to fail, but leave children uninsured. There’s something wrong here.
So as the ink dried on the new national health insurance legislation, I felt satisfied.
I hadn’t followed the debate about the bill. Washington politics sickens me. One party bellows “tastes great.” The other screeches “less filling.” The games go on. There are separate networks, newspapers and talking heads for the various points of view. I imagine the Titanic, sinking, and all these folks bitching about who is going to sit where. It must be like this whenever a great empire begins to collapse. The common vision fails, and, desperately, those with power, or seeking it, use any means they can muster to try to create a vision that can hold off the night.
One fact about the health plan leaps out at me and terrifies me. Ordinary Americans are now required to purchase health-care or be fined?
I am hard pressed to think of any other law in our history that made consumer spending mandatory.
It would have been far simpler simply to expand Medicare or Medicaid so that those without insurance could claim an entitlement. These programs, struggling as they are to meet our growing and gaining population, could be, and should be, funded from general tax revenue. That seems fair and efficient and consonant with the goals of a society devoted to equality and justice for all.
But conscripting the Internal Revenue Service into enforcement of univversal health care force me off the political sidelines and into something like revolt. Isn’t the power to tax the power to destroy?
As luck would have it, I had finished rereading Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World the night after the reform bill was passed. What a happy, and vapid, lot of consumers populated the world. The government prescribed a role for all, and socialized each to perfection. All were required to consume in order to keep the wheels of commerce turning. And life’s rough edges were made smooth for any all by cheap and easy Soma.
It’s easy when reading a piece of great satire to signs of your own time. But I was struck by the vision of a managed society where government meets each and every need. Folks had no choice but to play along. Dissent was crushed. The state was all.
Universal health care does not strike me as a sign of socialism. It is not a precursor to the totalitarian’s boot. It is the right and honorable thing to do in a society as wealth as ours.
But this health care legislation and its requirements that people purchase insurance or suffer a tax penalty strikes me as hobnailed fumbling. We didn’t have the nerve to do the right thing: simply expand entitlements. Instead, we mandate a market for insurance companies and force people to buy products from firms that are, like their buddies on Wall Street, too big to fail. What’s more, when we like sheep fail to feed in industries trough, we’re penalized in the form of a tax.
Let’s see. The people forced to serve a monolithic industry. The state stepping in to make sure all knees bend. Good lord, the rhetoric about fascism seems less hysterical and more like a sober reflection of realism.
Federal actions have already been filed raising Constitutional claims about this compulsory consumption. These are worthy challenges. I hope they succeed. I fear next a national nutrition plan. Or, perhaps, a dress code. I don’t like this Brave New World.
Reprinted courtesy of Connecticut Law Tribune.