Friday, June 15, 2012

Free Market Fundamentalism

Once again in the presidential campaign, the so-called conservatives keep clamoring for the virtues of the "free market."  Apparently, the capitalist marketplace--you know, the one that brought us the Great Depression, the housing bubble, and our failed privatized health care system--is some paragon of virtue and goodness that will bring us earthly utopia.  Ever since the Great Depression, no one has taken laissez faire capitalism seriously.  It has been understood that a mixed system of government regulation of the market has helped balance a system that would otherwise move from boom to bust and cause great devastation in its wake.  The deregulation of the Reagan and Bush years caused a serious rollback of health and safety protections, along with social spending cuts that helped keep childhood poverty and hunger at Third World levels.  Not to be outdone by our archenemy Cuba, our health and mortality outcomes are much worse, even though our economy is massive compared to that tiny, impoverished island.

Now it appears that our corporate bought Supreme Court might overturn the minimal protections to the populace at the hands of the inefficient health insurance industry passed in the Affordable Care Act.  Another step backward for a country that is as far Right as it gets.  Part of the problem is that many Americans have a warped sense of freedom.  This shows the current media supported indoctrination system works well.  People believe that if they have to pay taxes, purchase insurance, or if an employer has to provide them minimal health coverage, that somehow this violates their "freedoms."  Freedom means nothing if you lack power.  If someone else has the "freedom" to take advantage of me, that reduces my freedom--it doesn't enlarge it.  When corporations are declared "people" and have the same rights as people, they actually end up with more rights and can become bullies.  A corporation lives forever, it can be in several places at once, cannot be easily killed, and can aggregate resources at a level that no individual could compete with.  This isn't a person--this is what we call a god.  The new American gods have the right to buy elections, take away our jobs, move production overseas, and dictate policy.  By virtue of their strength, they can take advantage of those who have the same freedoms as them.  After all, an indentured servant and a chattel slave are practically in the same position.

Much of this has to do with our society becoming very atomized.  Trade unions, churches, and civic organizations used to be much stronger.  These organizations proved to be a strong countervailing force against the corporate elite and their public relations industry.  These organizations have been decimated over the last 30 years.  Add to this the Apple ethic---the myth that what you buy is an expression of who you are as a person.  If I buy Apple, for example, I am someone who supposedly "thinks different."  Judging by their sales figures, everyone in America must be thinking differently lately.  Companies will have us believe that our true selves are expressed not through civic engagement, creative activities, or our personalities, but through what we consume.  As people become more materialistic and less other-focused, they also become more individualistic and more selfish.  This helps feed the warped sense of freedom that Republicans like to peddle for their own interests.  In actuality, private corporations and the free market are actually more tyrannical and anti-democratic than government.  A corporation is a hierarchical, privately held tyranny.  It is not transparent.  Management makes the decisions on its own.  There is almost no accountability to the public.  The government, by comparison, is much freer.  At least the government is accountable to the people.  It is more democratic.  If we don't like what Exxon or GM does, that's our problem.

If people think business is efficient, then try to call the telephone company, your cell phone carrier, or your health insurance company and solve a problem.  If you get a human on the telephone, you are lucky.  Of course, once you do, they are going to transfer you ten times because no one is empowered enough to solve your customer service problem.  The entire system is designed to only solve a very narrow range of issues.  Anything beyond that, and you are fucked.  And why shouldn't you be?  It is more cost effective for them to use computers and Indians who can't speak English than to hire American workers who are permitted to solve problems.  The costs are externalized to you.  Never mind if you have to wait on the telephone for 3 hours to get a response, or whether your time and effort is wasted.  That doesn't influence the corporate bottom line.

Those opposed to health care reform say they think the government shouldn't intrude and the market should determine health care distribution.  The problem is that the market is too inefficient to deal with the human side of the health care crisis.  As human beings, we don't deny emergency care to those who cannot afford to pay because we believe in the value of human life.  The same goes for those with preexisting conditions.  Republicans claim that high risk pools will lead to the reduction of health care costs because insurers will compete for the business of sick people.  This proposition is laughable.  The reason insurers won't cover those with serious illnesses is because it costs them too much money.  They aren't going to compete to cover massive expenses for those with cancer, AIDS, and heart disease.  This means the sickest of people won't get the proper preventative and maintenance care that will lead them to have less costs in the future.  So instead of giving $1 test strips to diabetics, we'll wait until they will need dialysis and then put them on government assistance.  Or instead of giving anti-hypertensive drugs to those with high blood pressure, we will wait until they have a stroke and require life-long nursing home care.  That's "personal responsibility" and "market discipline."  The good old invisible hand at work.  The same goes for the purchase of healthcare mandate.  People claim their freedom is impeded if they have to purchase health insurance.  But isn't your freedom hindered anyway?  How free are you if you have to stay at a shitty job that you hate just because your employer pays for your health insurance because you cannot afford  health insurance on your own?  What if we had single payer health coverage--then people could actually start their own small businesses, go back to school, or stay home to raise their children.  But Republicans don't care about these values.  If they did, they wouldn't be fighting against the public option or the single payer option.  

Or take Social Security.  It is entirely self-funded and incredibly efficient.  Administrative costs are less than 3%.  It helps the old and disabled have a minimal income so they don't starve.  With the right reforms, it could continue indefinitely.  But Republicans have us believe that it is bankrupting this country and needs to be privatized.  When the next market crash comes and millions of old and disabled people are left without the basics of subsistence, well, that's their problem.  They have to rely on private charity.  No nanny state for those entitled parapalegics demanding basic care.  They also need to learn personal responsibility and the values of market discipline.

America is a pretty fucked up place.  While we do have some real freedom in the area of free speech compared with very oppressive countries like France or Red China, we have some very backward notions of freedom when it comes to our sense of economic social justice.  It is surprising how many working class adults vote against their interests on a regular basis, all out of a warped sense of freedom and morality.  Maybe one day, when this country has become a Third World type nation, with the top few percent living in walled cities and the rest living in total squalor, they will wake up--but I highly doubt it.  Once they can't afford the newest iGadget from Apple, then the true social reforms will begin.

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