With Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan for Vice President, the coming election offers the sharpest practical and philosophical contrast that we have seen for a long time. It all boils down to the question of what we think the purpose of government is.
Stated in the baldest terms, the choice is between a party that sees the very rich as the overlords, responsible for arranging our commerce and finance to eventually provide the greatest wealth for all; and a party that judges the greatest good as attending to the needs of all citizens equally and in the present. To the Republicans, the wellbeing of America will be the result of wise business decisions and minimal taxes. To the Democrats, equality is the highest goal. Business profit is decidedly not—and we already have low taxes.
It all boils down to the question of
what we think the purpose of government is.
Unfortunately, this election takes place against a background of worldwide economic chaos that nobody can reliably control, but which Republicans have tried at every step to worsen in order to assure that Obama is not re-elected.
It does not speak well of the patriotism of Congressional Republicans that they have made the destruction of American wellbeing their entire goal for four years. If they actually cared about the American people and about the fate of our country, Republicans would have shaped their strategy to reflect their ideals. And now they want us to trust them when they say that we should hand over control of the government to the mega-rich because they will eventually bring wealth to us all.
And when will that be? In terms of Ryan’s budget, passed by the House last spring, it will take a mere two or three generations to begin bringing the national debt under control, which might happen sometime in the latter part of the century, other things being equal. Romney’s non-plan is so vague it is impossible to analyze. Meantime, the wealth of the mega-rich would continue its steep climb, paid for from the budget deficit. Nothing in the Ryan or Romney plans suggests an improvement of the lives of most Americans. Much suggests the opposite.
It does not speak well of the patriotism of
Congressional Republicans that they
have made the destruction of American wellbeing
their entire goal for four years.
The blogosphere characterizes Ryan as “Privatizing Ryan” (a pun on the war movie “Saving Private Ryan”), for his enthusiasm for substituting private financing for government run “entitlements”, specifically, funding for old age and health care. That would be just fine if he could show that his proposals would actually reach everyone fairly, and do so more efficiently than government programs.
In my mind, at least, the question of whether a government program is necessary to fund retirement remains open. Theoretically, there doesn’t seem to be any reason that something like Social Security, administered by the government, is necessary, provided that all persons are covered in some way, saving is mandatory, and most importantly, the poor are covered. However, neither Ryan’s nor any other Republican plan has satisfied those basic democratic requirements.
These problems would be entirely solved with a national Living Wage law of the kind Australia has had for a hundred years. Unfortunately, almost no one is thinking along those lines. We expect people to earn a third of the necessary minimum, yet somehow pay for their health care and retirement from that. Since they cannot, the rest of us must pay for them somehow, or accept widespread crushing poverty.
Health care is a different sort of creature. Health care in the modern world cannot be economically addressed by anything other than a comprehensive national plan. Ryan’s plan for privatization and vouchers won’t work. It simply substitutes tickets to pay for expensive and inefficient private health care that has no cost controls. Vouchers would very likely decline in value over time because medical costs have not and cannot be sufficiently controlled by the market, which brings with it inherent pressures to maximize profit.
Solid data show that health care cost in the US
is twice that of every nation with a national plan.
Solid data show that health care cost in the US is twice that of every one of the many nations with a national plan that covers all people. A third of our health care dollars is wasted on for-profit insurance companies, who provide absolutely no health care. Costs cannot be controlled until all doctors are salaried, and do not begin professional life with a quarter-million dollars of personal debt, among other things. Nor can they be controlled as long as Big Insurance and Big Pharma continue to purchase undue influence over Congress. They can be controlled only by a national plan that disallows ineffective practices and profit skimming.
Health care is not like any other business, in which profit is the primary goal, indeed the only goal. When the goal is return on investment, hospitals will strive to maximize revenue, not health.
Health care involves the lives of every American, literally. It has moral and ethical implications that affect no other enterprise. Health care simply cannot be entrusted to people whose primary motive is profit. The plans that Romney and Ryan are fulminating fail to recognize that basic fact, and would bring disaster to us all.