Monday, November 09, 2009

On Matt's Wall

My young nephew Matt was in mourning the other day, a result of the House passing a health care bill. A wee discussion (OK, it was in danger of becoming a brush fire if not a firestorm) resulted. Trying not to fan the flames, I wrote a couple of responses, two being required due to the length limit on Facebook. For what it's worth, here's what I wrote.

One of the characteristics of the health care discussion, and the discussion of the direction of US social policy in general, has been the use of the word socialism. Those who are vehemently opposed to the social initiatives either enacted or proposed by the current administration use the blank term socialism quite loudly. (Some actually use socialism and fascism interchangeably, which makes my head spin!)

Both the tone and frequency of the use of the word indicates to me that it is being used as a “scare” word, a scare tactic, if you will. Of course in the minds of those who are strongly opposed, sometimes even strident, they are not scare mongering. But nonetheless few, if any, stop and clearly state their definition of socialism. One gets the distinct impression that socialism is anything which which they disagree regarding social policy and programs. Such a position does not foster true, constructive dialog, as those engaged would be forever disagreeing about definitions and perhaps never getting on to empirical issues, i.e., solving shared problems.

Before I insert some dictionary definitions of socialism, however, I do want to state that I do not come to the characterizing those opposed to universal health care as using scare words lightly. One thing that I have learned in observing human behaviour is that when people use scary, boogie man words, 99.99% of the time it is because they themselves are scared. They are scared of uncertainty, scared because they have been led to a place of fear or paranoia, or perhaps scared of something uncomfortable inside themselves which is being revealed by the debate at hand.

In US recent history, this is quite understandable, perhaps even predictable. The roots may stretch even further back, but they at least began growing with the Viet Nam war, accompanied by massive cultural shifts, an unprecedented communications revolution, additional armed conflicts that have shaken or at least challenged some core beliefs, and finally economic upheaval that has been both hard to understand and hard to take.

No wonder there has been fear, uncertainty and doubt.

Now, on to some definitions of socialism …

From dictionary.reference.com:

so⋅cial⋅ism
/ˈsoʊʃəˌlɪzəm/

–noun
.
1.a theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole.
2.procedure or practice in accordance with this theory.
3.(in Marxist theory) the stage following capitalism in the transition of a society to communism, characterized by the imperfect implementation of collectivist principles.

From merriam-webster.com:

Main Entry: so·cial·ism
Pronunciation: \ˈsō-shə-ˌli-zəm\
Function: noun
Date: 1837
1 : any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership an administration of the means of production and distribution of goods
2 a : a system of society or group living in which there is no private property b : a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state
3 : a stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done
Neither the OED or American Heritage have free online searches available, so I will have to be content that their definitions are substantially the same at their core, though perhaps more detailed. What is clear to me here, is that the term “socialism!” as applied to the health care debate misses the mark, and by a large margin.
In my opening response to Matt's post, I purposely used the term “social programs” to counterbalance his use of socialism. (Matt, of course, is better [and world-wide] known as a duct tape artiste. My own opinion is that so far he is much more accomplished in that genre than political acuity. But I'm working on him. ;) )

I wanted to tease out individual definitions of “socialism” that I knew needed to be declared, and provoke the kind of discussion we have been dancing around … or “around which we have been dancing”, to be a bit more stuffy.

Aside from the obvious need to define terms in any debate or discussion, I come at the specific debate on health care, and a discussion of social policy in general, from what I think is a more empirical viewpoint. I am trained as a scientist (biology and chemistry), and have made a career in computer networking. Both of those pursuits require clear definitions and scientific rigor, i.e., empiricism, for one to be successful. “Feelings” don't count. Opinion, ultimately, doesn't count when it comes to core technologies.

So having experienced both private and public, universal single payer health care, I can speak from experience that relatively few in the US have. This is why Trevor's question to Matt is, I think, important. As in Sweden, many other countries (democracies at that) have public health care. Canada, Norway, Sweden, UK, France (mixed model), etc. … and nearly all of them have health outcomes that are BETTER than the US. Life expectancy in Canada, where I live and work and which provides a reference in which all other major social factors are nearly identical to the US, is 5-7 years longer, IIRC, to the US. And the health care system is less expensive, by around 30%.

There is a real world example based on actual data, not theory or political posture. Even though the current government of Canada is far more right-leaning than makes me comfortable, they would be thrown out in a split second if they evinced any tendency to fundamentally challenge Medicare. Canadians love their beer, their arts and hockey. But if push came to shove they would give up those three rather than health care. (Note: Anyone who wants to present the political “ad” about the woman who had to come to the US to get live-saving treatment should think twice. That ad was a lie; the woman was NOT in a life threatening situation, as attested by multiple physicians and the head of the Ontario Medical Association (as I recollect), and in fact she sued the Ontario government to recover the money she had to acquire by way of a mortgage which she cannot now repay.)

Not only is health care considered a human right, but it is seen as a distinct advantage both socially and economically. Businesses that invest in Canada actually figure in the benefit of universal coverage when calculating their risk analysis and business plans. That is one reason the auto sector has been so strong in Canada, and not just for the domestic manufacturers, or what is left of the “Big Three”. Toyota and Honda are heavily invested in Canadian operations, and part of that is due to health care, along with the skilled labour force and support industries. The next time you buy a Corolla, Civic, Equinox, Flex, Camaro … think about that. All those vehicles are built in Canada, along with others.

And further evidence of Canadian “socialism” is the regulation of the banking industry. Being more heavily regulated in areas left unregulated in the US, Canadian banks are far stronger, having experienced far less loss and damage during the financial sector crisis originated in the US. Where there used to be laughter at the “stodgy, over-regulated” banks in Canada, there is now chagrin. The housing sector is healthy after a short dip, with the larger cities experiencing increasing values for new and re-sale homes. (Not that I consider that the absolute yardstick of health in real estate.)

One of the characteristics of the health care discussion, and the discussion of the direction of US social policy in general, has been the use of the word socialism. Those who are vehemently opposed to the social initiatives either enacted or proposed by the current administration use the blank term socialism quite loudly. (Some actually use socialism and fascism interchangeably, which makes my head spin!)

Both the tone and frequency of the use of the word indicates to me that it is being used as a “scare” word, a scare tactic, if you will. Of course in the minds of those who are strongly opposed, sometimes even strident, they are not scare mongering. But nonetheless few, if any, stop and clearly state their definition of socialism. One gets the distinct impression that socialism is anything which which they disagree regarding social policy and programs. Such a position does not foster true, constructive dialog, as those engaged would be forever disagreeing about definitions and perhaps never getting on to empirical issues, i.e., solving shared problems.

Before I insert some dictionary definitions of socialism, however, I do want to state that I do not come to the characterizing those opposed to universal health care as using scare words lightly. One thing that I have learned in observing human behaviour is that when people use scary, boogie man words, 99.99% of the time it is because they themselves are scared. They are scared of uncertainty, scared because they have been led to a place of fear or paranoia, or perhaps scared of something uncomfortable inside themselves which is being revealed by the debate at hand.... Read More

In US recent history, this is quite understandable, perhaps even predictable. The roots may stretch even further back, but they at least began growing with the Viet Nam war, accompanied by massive cultural shifts, an unprecedented communications revolution, additional armed conflicts that have shaken or at least challenged some core beliefs, and finally economic upheaval that has been both hard to understand and hard to take.

No wonder there has been fear, uncertainty and doubt.

Now, on to some definitions of socialism …

From dictionary.reference.com:

so⋅cial⋅ism
/ˈsoʊʃəˌlɪzəm/

–noun
.
1.a theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole.
2.procedure or practice in accordance with this theory.
3.(in Marxist theory) the stage following capitalism in the transition of a society to communism, characterized by the imperfect implementation of collectivist principles.

From merriam-webster.com:

Main Entry: so·cial·ism
Pronunciation: \ˈsō-shə-ˌli-zəm\
Function: noun
Date: 1837
1 : any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership an administration of the means of production and distribution of goods
2 a : a system of society or group living in which there is no private property b : a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state
3 : a stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done
Neither the OED or American Heritage have free online searches available, so I will have to be content that their definitions are substantially the same at their core, though perhaps more detailed. What is clear to me here, is that the term “socialism!” as applied to the health care debate misses the mark, and by a large margin.
In my opening response to Matt's post, I purposely used the term “social programs” to counterbalance his use of socialism. (Matt, of course, is better [and world-wide] known as a duct tape artiste. My own opinion is that so far he is much more accomplished in that genre than political acuity. But I'm working on him. ;) )

I wanted to tease out individual definitions of “socialism” that I knew needed to be declared, and provoke the kind of discussion we have been dancing around … or “around which we have been dancing”, to be a bit more stuffy.

Aside from the obvious need to define terms in any debate or discussion, I come at the specific debate on health care, and a discussion of social policy in general, from what I think is a more empirical viewpoint. I am trained as a scientist (biology and chemistry), and have made a career in computer networking. Both of those pursuits require clear definitions and scientific rigor, i.e., empiricism, for one to be successful. “Feelings” don't count. Opinion, ultimately, doesn't count when it comes to core technologies.

So having experienced both private and public, universal single payer health care, I can speak from experience that relatively few in the US have. This is why Trevor's question to Matt is, I think, important. As in Sweden, many other countries (democracies at that) have public health care. Canada, Norway, Sweden, UK, France (mixed model), etc. … and nearly all of them have health outcomes that are BETTER than the US. Life expectancy in Canada, where I live and work and which provides a reference in which all other major social factors are nearly identical to the US, is 5-7 years longer, IIRC, to the US. And the health care system is less expensive, by around 30%.

There is a real world example based on actual data, not theory or political posture. Even though the current government of Canada is far more right-leaning than makes me comfortable, they would be thrown out in a split second if they evinced any tendency to fundamentally challenge Medicare. Canadians love their beer, their arts and hockey. But if push came to shove they would give up those three rather than health care. (Note: Anyone who wants to present the political “ad” about the woman who had to come to the US to get live-saving treatment should think twice. That ad was a lie; the woman was NOT in a life threatening situation, as attested by multiple physicians and the head of the Ontario Medical Association (as I recollect), and in fact she sued the Ontario government to recover the money she had to acquire by way of a mortgage which she cannot now repay.)

Not only is health care considered a human right, but it is seen as a distinct advantage both socially and economically. Businesses that invest in Canada actually figure in the benefit of universal coverage when calculating their risk analysis and business plans. That is one reason the auto sector has been so strong in Canada, and not just for the domestic manufacturers, or what is left of the “Big Three”. Toyota and Honda are heavily invested in Canadian operations, and part of that is due to health care, along with the skilled labour force and support industries. The next time you buy a Corolla, Civic, Equinox, Flex, Camaro … think about that. All those vehicles are built in Canada, along with others.

And further evidence of Canadian “socialism” is the regulation of the banking industry. Being more heavily regulated in areas left unregulated in the US, Canadian banks are far stronger, having experienced far less loss and damage during the financial sector crisis originated in the US. Where there used to be laughter at the “stodgy, over-regulated” banks in Canada, there is now chagrin. The housing sector is healthy after a short dip, with the larger cities experiencing increasing values for new and re-sale homes. (Not that I consider that the absolute yardstick of health in real estate.)

Matt, Thomas, et al … the lack of universal, affordable health care has been killing the US for decades now. It is exactly the opposite of what you posit. I am not naïve (or stupid) enough to believe that any public health care system is perfect. I am not naïve (or stupid) enough to believe that government involvement in any social program is without problems or even, at some stages, peril. I am not naïve (or stupid) enough to propose that the Medicare in Canada, NHS in the UK, or the systems in other countries with universal care are without inefficiencies and open to abuse and even, sometimes, corruption.

But I am also not naïve (or stupid) enough to hope, against all past experience, that a completely private system, monopolized by a relative few large corporations, will extend care to all, will root out its own dishonesty and the corruption of blacklisting subscribers on the basis of a corporate profit outlook required to satisfy Wall Street analysts who wouldn't know the difference between a suture and the incision requiring it. Nor could they care.

Thomas, your reply to my “rights” statement was interesting. I sincerely apologized because I hadn't made myself clear, and I really should have made a greater effort.

What your response told me was that you didn't understand that I was speaking of a human right rather than a commercial opportunity. Your example, that of being able to go to Shell or Exxon, etc., and buy gasoline as long as you have the money, is not a “right” in the same sense. It is, as I stated above, a commercial opportunity. It's interesting that you have the civil (i.e., social) right to do so without discrimination against your race, ethnicity, disability or religion, precisely because of the entrenchment of your human rights within the law of the land.

As long as we cast health care within the sole realm of commercial enterprise, we won't agree. All that progressives are trying to do is extend what we sincerely hold as a human right into a democratic society. If we could all stop with the hyperbolic and hysterical rhetoric, maybe we could come to understanding, and perhaps, then, some agreement.

Peace

2 comments:

kellymjones said...

Nice post. I hope it lends to some constructive debate on health care. One small thing, it appears that you have double pasted some text about the word socialism used as a scare word. The same content appears twice.

Thanks,

Kelly

Edward S. Isaacs said...

Blogger kellymjones said...

" Nice post. I hope it lends to some constructive debate on health care. One small thing, it appears that you have double pasted some text about the word socialism used as a scare word. The same content appears twice."

...this clearly shows "On Matt's Wall's" utter ignorance of what the real world is like, some of us need to come out of the classroom once in a while and start smelling the rotting corpses left behind by "socialist" experiments.
As bad as things may seem, it is a rose garden compared to what it could be.
Thanks for sharing some of your thoughts on your blog.
Ed.