The world economy is in its worst condition since the Great Depression, and the problems created by this, The Great Recession, will be with us for decades to come. Thats how long the people who saw their retirement savings destroyed will take to die off; how long it will take those who saw their college savings lost to get old and retire. In time, the elderly will die, the people forced into the job market with a high school diploma in place of a college degree will grow old, and their children will manage to get a better education and hope for a better life. Its cyclic. Humanity has always recovered from plagues, famines and wars, and eventually gone back to the pursuit of happiness. Given enough time, somebody will create a nostalgic television comedy about a mid-level manager taking a job in a fast food outlet, and create a doll named Karen, growing up in the Great Recession, complete with an accessory set that rivals anything Barbie owns. Memory is good for smoothing the bumps. It only hurts when you get too close.
The blame for the immediate mess, mostly, goes to the money people who, like the mad scientists in 1930s movies, tinkered with forces they didnt understand, but a lot should be aimed at the people in government who never quite got the idea that the role of government is to promote the general Welfare and secure the Blessings of Liberty, not to be business friendly. The rules are simple enough: what goes up must come down, and if you go in a straight line long enough, youll fall off the edge of the Earth and be eaten by monsters. You dont have to be a rocket scientist to learn these lessons it helps not to be one.
History is filled with examples of straight line thinking. One of the best known is the story of the Pharaoh who thought that if the Red Sea opened for Moses then it would stay open. Disasters, at least a fair share of them, are caused by people who dont want to upset the apple cart, and so, just as were starting to hope for some relief from the absurdities of people who thought Americans would never give up their SUVs, and house prices would always go up, we have the medical insurers who are telling us that everything is just fine, and doesnt need changing. Tragically, theyve found people foolish enough to believe their line of misinformation, and shout it loudly enough to disrupt any attempt at serious discussion.
When bankers couldnt adapt, it meant the near-destruction of the economy, and millions of people bereft of homes and hope. Now its the insurance executives turn, and left alone, theyll give us exactly what theyre promising rationed care and death by denial. The insurance companies are already selecting our providers, and determining the treatments, and now, in the tradition of the days when they refused to let physicians discuss treatment alternatives, theyre sending proxies to shout down even President Obamas genteel effort at compromise.
Theres a small bit of satisfaction that comes of knowing that this approach will guarantee that, in a few years, by 2020 if the projections are accurate, well have a single-payer, national health service. But well have it because unwillingness to change will provoke such a severe health care crisis that there wont be any choice that between the operating inefficiencies of the system, refusals of coverage, denials of claims, and demands for profit margins, the systemic rot will be beyond question.
But the corporations sending out misinformation and t-shirts cant see the bend in the road. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a 2008 poll found that as a result of medical costs ... nearly four in 10 (37%) report at least one of six financial troubles over the past five years ...: having difficulties paying other bills (20%); being contacted by a collections agency (20%); using up all or most of their savings (17%); being unable to pay for basic necessities such as food, heat or housing (12%); borrowing money (10%); or declaring bankruptcy (3%). Well have a good health care system soon enough, but those resisting change are entitled to the same considerations we owe soldiers in time of war: theyre entitled to know what theyre dying for.
Sam Uretsky is a writer and pharmacist living on Long Island, N.Y.
From The Progressive Populist, September 15, 2009
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