Single-Payer & the Maginot Line

“Where the U.S. corporation has failed — is in its inability to change its objective — not in its ability to achieve it.” – Thurman Arnold.

Even the most passionate pro-business advocates would be hard pressed to disagree with that. As a culture, perhaps even as a species, we tend to value stalwart ideals. We appreciate strength and consistency far more than we do the less tangible characteristics of gracefulness and adaptability. Throughout history, mankind has often clung to the old ways despite overwhelming evidence that doing so might spell disaster.

Just before WWII, the French built the Maginot Line to protect themselves from Germany. Originally planned to span nearly 1000 miles, the completed 280 miles of intricate, chess-like defenses were based on an old fortress mentality dating back to the crusades. We all know how that turned out.

Old ways usually fail to solve new problems. Progress is change, and change is good. Constant change might not be optimal, but timely change surely is. Big business and big government are eminently poor at making timely changes. In fact, they usually have to be dragged along, kicking and screaming like babes to the bathtub, only to realize that once they’re in the warm soapy waters, it’s really not as bad as they thought.

Today, our duty is to drag the big babies of the world kicking and screaming into the future. Job one is to ferret out the mental Maginot Lines of our day.

The most pressing example of outdated thinking is this: free-market solutions are the only solutions, to everything, period. That simply is not true, and demonstrably so.

Warfare, for instance, is never fought according to the foot-loose rules of laissez-faire. Doing so would be suicide. Can you imagine if FDR had called his generals into his office, pointed them toward Germany and said “Go get ’em, boys! And the first one to Berlin gets the best Christmas bonus he’s ever seen!”

There are many ways to slice and dice a country’s economy, but the two most fundamental sectors would be production and provision. Markets are best for production. Governments are best for provision.

Where production is concerned, capitalism is hands down the best model. No contest. Aside from the sheer volume and variety of consumables we produce, quality control methods have evolved to a point known as “Six Sigma” which means instead of having one defective product out of every few thousand, we now reliably have about 3.4 defects per million.

But provision — as in “provide for the common defense” — is not an act of production. It is a facilitation of activities that consummates the best, large-scale objective, and aside from the military, health insurance has to be the clearest example of provision economics.

After all, what is health insurance? It’s where you pay a big, private company a few hundred dollars a month…then, when you get sick, they may (or may not) give some of the money back. There is nothing that private health insurance can do that the government can’t do better. That is a fact, and the two best proofs of that fact are coverage and overhead. Private insurance equals limited coverage and high overhead. Single-payer insurance equals total coverage and low overhead.

Globally, the USA currently ranks #27 in health care. The most powerful country on earth, and our diabolically expensive “free market” system didn’t even crack the top ten. That’s why single-payer is obviously the best way to keep a country healthy. “Single-payer” simply means that the government is the “single-payer” of all the medical bills.

Aside from the fat-cats in the health insurance biz, every American will benefit overnight from a single-payer system. For instance, business owners will no longer be forced to provide health insurance for their employees. Imagine the savings. Employees will no longer keep jobs that they hate simply to provide coverage for their families. Best of all, elderly employees will no longer be seen as a liability simply because, due to their age, their employers are forced to pay stunningly high insurance premiums.

Despite single-payer’s obvious advantages for 99% of America, surely some staid, turtle-faced senator will wag his finger at us and lament, “If we switch to single-payer, hundreds of health insurance CEOs will lose their jobs. How could they possibly learn to live on less than $100,000 a day?”

How indeed. Let’s take the high road here, and show a little magnanimity. Let’s help those poor health insurance CEOs the same way they’ve been helping us for decades. We’ll toss them yesterdays classified ads and tell them to get a job.

Where Does the Money Come From?

“Where does the money come from?” That’s a common refrain from critics of Universal Basic Income (UBI). It’s an honest question, and a good one. Indeed, that could be our thought for the day. Full Lotus position. Zen mode. “Where does the money come from?”

In the year 2000, under President Clinton, the USA had a national debt of about $5.6 trillion, and the Republicans never stopped complaining about it.

Enter George W. Bush in 2001. Overnight, the debt was no big deal. First thing Bush did was cut taxes on the rich and send every tax payer in America a rebate check for $300. Later, as the debt began to rise, Dick Cheney infamously quipped “Deficits don’t matter.” That was odd because according to the GOP, deficits used to matter an awful lot.

Where did the money come from?

On 9/11 some terrorists hit us, and instead of addressing the problem by route of law enforcement, which we should have, Bush instead opted to invade and occupy Afghanistan. Where did the money come from?

After a few months of bombing Afghanistan to the point where there was nothing left to bomb, we turned our sights on invading and occupying Iraq. Where did the money come from?

In the final year of Bush’s presidency, we saw the nearly catastrophic financial collapse of 2008, which was a direct result of deregulation. Remember the check for $700 billion in bail-out money we gave to Wall Street? Remember how the guys who caused the financial collapse spent it on their multimillion dollar bonuses?

When Bush left office, the official national debt had nearly doubled to almost $10 trillion. Mind you, by that point the true cost of the wars were unknown. They were never budgeted to begin with. So after eight years, America was at least twice as deep in debt as it was before. Were we twice as safe? Was our standard of living twice as high?

Then came three waves of Quantitative Easing (QE). Few working-class people even know about this, and even fewer understand it — myself included — but QE was basically an effort to stimulate the economy after the financial collapse. In essence, the Federal Reserve gave trillions of dollars to big banks in order to encourage lending, which to their way of thinking indicates a strong economy. Yes, our government basically gave trillions of dollars to the very people who already had most of the money, bankers.

Where did the money come from? Evidently the same place it always comes from. The Federal Reserve printed it out of thin air.

If we’re talking about waging an open-ended war, or giving hundreds of billions of dollars to the richest one-percent, money never seems to be an issue. The green stuff grows on trees. No problemo. Charge it.

But if we talk about UBI and giving money to working people? Suddenly, the concept becomes problematic, par to absurd. Tut-tut. Eyes roll.

Perhaps an even more pertinent question would be “Where did the money go?” We know that nobody sets piles of money on fire, so where are those trillions of dollars today?

According to Brown University, by 2016 the USA had spent around $4.8 trillion on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined. Okay. We know what we spent the money on. The question is, who has it?

It’s not hard to guess. The people who have most of the money now are the very same people who had most of the money before. It’s a recurring theme.

Come 2018, the USA will have amassed a staggering $20 trillion in debt. From 2001 to 2018, America will have nearly quadrupled all the debt it had accrued over the course of the previous 225 years. Does anyone seriously think our government has even the vaguest intention of paying it off?

The concept of UBI — or the notion that every person in our country should be paid a monthly stipend, preferably enough to keep them alive — is relatively new and largely unknown. But it is a serious idea being discussed by serious people. Few of us, however, are under the illusion that it will ever happen in our lifetimes.

We like to compare ourselves to those vagabond hearts of the 19th century who fancied flying with man-made wings. Or perhaps we’re more akin to those curious, bespectacled folks of the 1960’s who contemplated a walk on the moon. The stuff of dreams? Yes. Impossible? Yes.

But we did it anyway.

Happy Fourth of July

At the Battle of Lexington, the British soldiers were so incensed at the Yanks that they raided a saloon on their way back to camp. Entering the bar, they saw two old men, retirees, sitting at a table quietly drinking their beer. The old duffers had not been involved in the battle, and were no threat to anyone, but the British bashed in their skulls anyway.

The obscene cruelty of war is far too common. Near battle grounds, the soldiers have it best of all. Civilian lives are a dime a dozen. The sacrilege of wasted life prompts us to consider the hope within the human heart, that candle-flicker of will that somehow urges us to persevere despite the bleakest of winds.

Painfully aware of life’s brevity, a special event took place halfway through the Revolutionary War. A gentleman farmer, who also served as a cavalry officer, threw a great party in honor of his fifty horsemen and their ladies. Everyone in the area was invited. Hundreds attended the summer fete galante.

The officer tidied up one of his pastures, which was lined with cypress trees and a thick wall of shrubbery. At the entrance to the field, the commander had some local artisans construct what looked like the tremendous remains of ancient Grecian pillars, twelve feet in diameter, fifteen feet high. The pillars were made to look as if they were the ruins of an ancient temple fit for titans. As the guests arrived, the wives and consorts of the cavaliers were alternately given silk scarves of pink or blue.

What followed was a feast of high extravagance. Sides of beef, roasted pork, lamb chops, pheasant, and shellfish from the bay. They had chocolate cakes, cherry pies, and fluffy French pastries oozing with whipped cream. Kids joyfully jabbed their grubby mitts into fancy glass bowls filled with hard candies galore. Not least of all, there were many barrels of beer, casks of wine, and jugs of whiskey and rum.

The dinner tables formed a semi-circle for the soldiers and their wives. Each table was uniformly decorated with crisp white tablecloths festooned with ribbons and bows. The country folk ate in picnic style, atop blankets in the field.

Following supper and a digestive respite, a band was formed and everyone danced. Remember, this was the era when dancing was like a grand display of performance art, where each song indicated a certain pattern of steps, and partners were swapped frequently as the music progressed.

Come sunset, everyone gathered for a show, lolling on their blankets as the pastel hues of evening sky seeped gently into inky night. When sufficiently dark, the fireworks began. The crowd was ensorcelled. The display was said to be so fantastic the locals talked about it for years, and the commanding officer was reprimanded for wasting resources, but he argued that it was good for moral, which it was.

After the fireworks, the cavalrymen excused themselves and the guests gathered round a great circle of torches in the center of the pasture. When the full moon had fully risen, bathing the sky in a faery light, a clarion sounded and the cavalrymen reappeared. Proudly, they trotted in unison through the Grecian gates, their buttons aglitter in the quicksilver light. With practiced pomp, the platoon paraded into to the circle astride their steeds.

Once the troops were in order, the commander fired his flintlock pistol into the air. His men broke ranks. Each trooper galloped into the crowd, searching for his paramour. Once he found her, he dismounted, knelt at her feet, drew his sword into the air, and said something epically poetic, like “May I have the pleasure of defending your honor?” or “I have sworn myself to fight for your love.”

Here, each lady tied her silk scarf to the hilt of her knight’s sword. The men then remounted their stallions and split the field to opposing sides, the pink versus the blue.

A bugle called. To arms! With a mad howl the cavaliers charged at full speed until they clashed with a roar midfield, clinking and clanking their swords. Horses reared. Men leapt from saddle to ground like swashbucklers engaged in an elaborate duel.

Such bravado. Such was the climax of the eve. One wonders what happened, later that night? When all the mom’s and dad’s went home? Crawling into bed, I’m sure they did what anyone would do. They fell fast asleep, and dreamed of a world without war.

Happy Fourth of July.