George Sarant

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Posts Tagged ‘socialism

REFLECTIONS ON HEALTH CARE

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What is the proper role of government with regard to the health care of its citizens? How should costs be allocated?  These are questions that are still up in the air in the USA, but how these questions are addressed still applies everywhere.  The Republicans appear to have painted themselves into a corner on this subject, while the Democrat-imposed Obamacare is collapsing from its own defects. This legislation was deeply flawed and fundamentally unjust insofar as it expanded coverage for some uninsured people, largely by expanding Medicaid, while otherwise imposing steep additional costs on other individuals in a haphazard fashion. But the Republicans are the governing party now and are stuck with having to come up with solutions they have not adequately provided. They should know by now that it is virtually impossible to get rid of a benefit once it has been established, and the plan passed by the House is going nowhere in the Senate and fails to provide the fundamental overhaul they promised. 

There is a desperate need to rationalize the American health care system by going back to the drawing board and starting from scratch. Republicans first need to concede that everyone ought to have adequate health care, giving that to the Democrats, who might then be brought on board. But this does not necessarily mean that health care should be provided by the government. Nor should it be provided because it is a “right;” it is rather a benefit. Why then should the state in some fashion underwrite such a benefit? 

The short answer is that a developed society can afford to, and we must increasingly come to grips with the consequences of technological change, which is far more salient than “globalization” in causing economic disruption. Given that inequality is an inevitable consequence of a truly free society, those who lack higher skills and who are left behind by the consequences of automation, AI, and other developments- something that can happen to  anyone, need to provide a basic level of support. If growth and economic dislocation eventually benefit everyone, then those who have disproportionately suffered the consequences ought to be provided with some level of adjustment. This is a different population than the poor, who already get everything for free. It is a population we want to prevent from falling into the ranks of the poor. As society develops and grows richer overall, it is reasonable to provide basics for everyone through some mechanism that does not overly burden everyone else. 

The way to do this is to resolve to get the government completely out of the health care business and let market forces do what they do best- rationalize the distribution of goods and services. The state would instead provide a graduated insurance stipend to those who cannot afford it, who would then be able to purchase whatever health care they want or need. For this to work the government would no longer provide any other services directly or indirectly; no more mandates, no more policies, just a cash benefit and there would no longer are any pre-existing conditions. Since everyone is obligated to pay taxes, insurance and medical costs would be deductible, and medical savings exempt from taxation, but anyone who fails to purchase coverage would be charged with the cost of providing a policy for them, which would at least cover catastrophic circumstances, which otherwise would be passed on to everyone else. This does sound like the Obamacare tax but you cannot have universal health care without universal participation and no one is here being compelled to do anything. 

This is not socialism, which is unworkable. Socialism would be government control of all health care, and hence ownership of the system. This is the opposite of that. Government is completely removed from any operational role and only would  only maintain the principle that everyone be covered, by providing direct cash transfers where needed. This would dismantle the administrative state, save billions, and allow a rational system of costs and services to develop, leading to a reduction in overall expenses. There are many details to be worked out and this is preferred only as a roadmap. There are only two fundamental principles that must be adhered to: that everyone be covered and that the government gets out of the health care business. 

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UPRISINGS IN UKRAINE AND VENEZUELA

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Ukraine and Venezuela are exploding with popular uprisings against oppressive regimes. In Ukraine the people have triumphed as the government has been driven from power. In Venezuela the struggle continues, but freedom cannot indefinitely be suppressed. In both cases the US has zero influence due to the deliberate weakening of American power by the current administration, which is further seeking to reduce the Army to below-WWII levels. The US is no longer respected in much of the world, and it will take considerable effort to recover from this disastrous decline. But you would not know much of this from the coverage in American media.

This is not to suggest that there ought to be military intervention, or the threat of it, particularly in Ukraine, where the situation is decidedly complex. The Russians are mobilizing forces on the border of Ukraine, but there is little we can do about it. The problem in Ukraine is the western half is mostly Ukrainian and oriented toward Europe. In the eastern half there is a large, and in some areas dominant Russian population. Although this may have come about from Soviet efforts to export Russians to the region. at this point it is an unchangeable reality. The complexity of the situation arises from the fact that they share a common history flowing from the city of Norse-controlled Kiev over a thousand years ago, after obtaining their alphabet and Christian religion from the Byzantine Greeks. Thus, although it is in present day Ukraine, Kiev is also the spiritual home of the Russians.

But after Mongol invaders destroyed much of what was in their path there was some divergence. Western Ukraine was occupied by Poland  in 1349 and then Lithuania for centuries until the eastern portion reverted to Russia in 1654. It was subsequently divided between Russia in the east and the Austro-Hungarian empire in the west, and after World War I was incorporated as a republic within the USSR. In 1954 Russia ceded Crimea to Ukraine, clearly as part of the Russian dominated union never anticipating it would not be under their control. Modern independence only came after the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Thus, not surprisingly the Russians consider the status of Ukraine to be in their vital interests, and realistically an independent Ukraine can only exist as long as Russia tolerates it. The European Union is favored by western Ukrainians, but the military power of the EU is nonexistent, and integration with Ukraine may only be possible  if Russia itself becomes an EU member. While we may sympathize with the democratic will of the people, given its leadership vacuum there is not much the west can or should do. Warnings from John Kerry are laughable, and at this point, for better or worse, Vladimir Putin is going to determine the outcome. 

Venezuela is a different story. The repressive socialist regime there is a posturing enemy of the US and a troublemaker in the region. It has gone so far as to align itself with Iran. The standard of living has declined as one would expect it to in a country with all out socialism as its goal and the people appear to have finally had enough. Here we should intervene, not militarily, but by providing full support to the opposition, especially since the regime will accuse us of doing that anyway. For Venezuela is located in what we used to consider our own back yard. Deposing the Chavista regime is in our national interests and would be a severe blow to the evil satellite regimes that have sprung up with their aid. But given the sympathies of the current administration it would be a pleasant surprise if they actually did anything.

Written by georgesarant

February 26, 2014 at 7:22 PM

LAST WORD ON LAST YEAR

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When the holiday season comes around I try to tune out the unending political rancor, and realize just how caustic it is when the season dissipates and it returns to the forefront. It is true that most people don’t follow these things or give them much attention, but those who do are usually angry for one reason or another, or upset about something, or fearful of what may happen, even though it often never occurs. For me the recent election and its aftermath constituted a distraction from other things I’d rather be focusing on, and never intended to give it as much attention as I have. I’d rather stay disinterested, but before moving on I’d like to reiterate a few ideas.  

It is pointless for those on the losing side to try and assign blame for the results, but some silly “explanations” have been put forward. These usually reflect the tendency to try and fit the election outcomes to reinforce something one believed before the election, or to advance a particular agenda. This is followed by a call to get rid of people they don’t like or disagree with. A lot of this has been directed against people with strong religious views, i.e. evangelical Protestants, Orthodox Jews, conservative Catholics, etc. – generally referred to as the “religious right.” A rather large number of people are then tarred with the antics of a minor fringe, and it is suggested that they should be ignored. They say these people have too much influence on social issues, and have alienated other people, who then vote for the other party, having been “driven away.” The fallacy in this is that these votes would otherwise have gone Republican, but there is no evidence to substantiate this claim. It is alleged that “exclusionary rhetoric” (which is often mentioned but rarely specifically identified) is the problem, and therefore this group should be excluded.  I don’t share much of the worldview of the religious right, but I know that purging people is no way to build a majority. 

Some people now feel under siege and threatened, based upon fears that certain things might happen, usually based upon rhetoric of the other side, rather than the more pragmatic reality any government must deal with. They feel that the country has been lost and America as we have known it is over.  I think this is a bit premature, at the very least until 2014, when the outcome will very likely be different.  A significant number of people have actually signed secession petitions for their state, which is like picking up your marbles and leaving the game because you lost. I shouldn’t have to say this, but it’s not a good idea for a number of reasons. First because even most so-called “blue” states are actually geographically predominantly “red” at the county level. Thus, that means ceding away most of the territory in those states and abandoning the people who live in those counties. Second, over 600,000 died in a war to preserve the union and it is a disgrace to their memories.  Third, assuming these states actually did secede, soon enough there would be divisions within those states, in terms of government and opposition; this is inherent in the political process. 

 

Election outcomes have been far worse. When I was a fifteen years old I poured my heart and soul into Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign.   When he lost I was heartbroken,  at what I thought was the triumph of socialism and the end of our world. I recall being at the NY Conservative party office in (because the Republican party establishment didn’t support Goldwater)  election night. Women were crying and  guys were cursing the television at every smirk that appeared on Walter Cronkite’s face. The results then were a rout; there were losses everywhere, from congress to the state legislatures, and majorities left virtually nowhere. That was a time when communism seemed to be advancing all over the world, and socialism did seem to be the wave of the future, and our opposition seemed hopeless. But history turned out very differently. 

 

For things are seldom as bad as they seem, nor as good as we would like them to be. Much of the despondency  (or triumphalism on the other side) I’m hearing in the aftermath of last year’s election is premature. Many have given this election a portent that is unwarranted, often based upon expectations that are unlikely to be realized. On the surface, a recent Gallup poll showing that “socialism” was now viewed positively by 39% of Americans ought to be worrying, until you look a little deeper. By the same survey apparently 25% of “conservatives” and 23% of Republicans also viewed socialism positively. What this tells me is that when it comes to political terminology most people are clueless. Maybe they think “socialism” means social media like Facebook? This makes one realize that the problem really may be less the other “side,” than a situation of general stupidity. You have to wonder what all the political effort and conflict means in the end when must of the public is at best, vaguely aware. Clearly there is yet much to be learned out there and that is something all sides ought to agree on. 

 

Written by georgesarant

January 13, 2013 at 12:04 AM