Ross Douthat’s NYTimes Op Ed piece (2/15/10) attempts to give the impression of thoughtful balance, albeit from a Republican perspective. I have no idea if Douthat actually believes what he is saying, but have the sense that his “even handed” treatment of the limited understanding of the Democrats is mostly pretense. However, the essential error of the piece has little to do with the partisan bickering that passes for commentary.
There is no Free (sic) Market process either in place or possible… what we have currently in place is the ‘natural’ product of what has been called “free market” over the last half century. This is so obvious and simple: as groups of people come to accumulate wealth (and power) they use that wealth to strengthen their protection of it and in the process need more. In this positive feedback design even charity is a form of wealth protection just like a high wall or a locked vault.
People who enter this process of action and belief create ever more complex, opaque and effective designs to gather more wealth – this must include a public relations component to convince the Great Many that such accumulations are natural, essential and ultimately beneficial to all. Most end up believing their own propaganda and respond to rejection of their sophistries with the outrage of a zealot. This is especially problematic because of all the machinery that exists to respond with more wealth extraction, aggressive PR, power concentration and in-group identification.
The propaganda creates an ethic that wealth is good – at least natural – with the consequence that those who rise up to speak for and organize the cacophony of the Great Many are compromised by the wealth and power system that is in place – they become part of the PR arm of the elite; and if they can not be compromised, they can be frightened, marginalized as “nuts” or killed.
This is the reality that resides behind Douthat’s “Oh so reasonable and bipartisan” consideration of healthcare legislation. The question is not how can two (or more) rational and equally reasonable positions be compromised into a plan that will bring medical care to people in the most efficient and economical way; we have that answer from 30 other developed nations. But rather the question is: how can the current structures for accumulating wealth from medical services be left in place, or improved upon, while giving the impression that more services are being delivered to at least the more politically active in the society?
The argument between the Democrats and Republicans is over whether the wealth accumulators should have to give up a bit of the growth of their advantage or whether they should get a greater advantage in this moment of opportunity. This is called, in the linguistic Madness of our time, Socialism vs. Free Market.
Such arguments have to be replaced with a real ethical argument and it must be loud enough that it can be heard in the pauses of the media-dominated elite noise machine. Excessive wealth is not good, just like greed is not good. Wealth is not a condition, but a process that unprotects the tiny bits of wealth that actually productive people accumulate for their personal safety, unprotects with force, guile and law. The inherent form of such a relationship is enmity, thus the many war based metaphors of business.
Our present economic and political system unprotects the many tiny accumulations of those who actually add value to the objects and services of exchange and protects the accumulations of the moneychangers who position themselves at strategic points in the movement of wealth. This is a natural process in an unregulated world, natural like the build up of driftwood and silt in the bend of a river: the first random point to deposit a snag begins to reshape and build a stream bank that collects more and more until the force of a flood overpowers the design, resets the ‘established order’ and process begins again.
So long as we choose to live on the river bank or so long as we choose or must live in a complex economy we must regulate both for our safety. Wealth that exceeds about 10 times the average minimum levels for personal safety should be socially unacceptable, the pitchforked mobs on the march with torches in hand. That the medical industry grazes on the health needs and fears of the Great Many, and siphons off nearly 30 % of the Great Many’s medical payments into the paper work of insurance companies whose monetary incentive (forget human concern) is to deny medical care, that the 100 million dollar buildings housing these thieves are not being torn down with the bare hands of the outraged is remarkable.
No, Douthat’s argument is not some evenhanded, enlightened invitation to compromise with actual healthcare as the goal. It is a call to submission to wealth and power.
There is no going on from where we are now. There is only the flailing hopefulness of the hopeless. We see this in the insane recalcitrance of our political actors, in the unbelievably twisted arrogance of the economic elite and the madly mindless obsequiousness of the Great Many. Those with some purchase on reality are so marginalized and insignificant: they are like shrews in the forest – tiny, impossible to find in action, though occasionally a bone is found in the waste of a predatory bird or a discarded beetle skeleton with the marks of sharp little teeth. That is about how much evidence we see of real ethical and knowledge-based activism.
It is there, of course, just like the shrews, a ubiquitous presence of concern, distrust and potential activism, but its every move is countered by a predatory economic elite totally dedicated to the preservation of their entitlement. We have seen this before; when the Great Many finally have had enough they will, like dogs driven mad by mistreatment, attack indiscriminately, even (especially) each other. This is the bloody reality that boils beneath the maddeningly dishonest Op Ed machine and political playacting.