Define “socialized…”

Sometimes I get in arguments with Facebook. At least, it feels like an argument with Facebook, and not the people on it. I’m arguing with a computer screen. On a public wall. I’m starting to think of it as a more passive form of trolling (which I hate with a burning passion).

But some things you just can’t let roll by. Sometimes, people are just wrong on the internet. You can’t let that slide.

Case in point:

Someone posts this video by Milton Friedman about Socialized Medicine. And basically begs his ‘liberal friends’ to respond.

Challenge taken.

If you don’t want to watch the video (which is from a talk made in 1978), here are the key points:

1) There is a trend towards ‘ever-greater government involvement’ over medical fees.

2) “The spending for the provision of medical care inevitably leads to control over the fees that are charged for medical care.”

3) “Control over fees inevitably leads to control over the practices that are followed.”

4) “[The trends mentioned in points 1 through 3] inevitably lead to socialized medicine.”

5) “The ultimate result of a government take over is less resources [for the public]. (Note from Lisa- I don’t disagree with this point, but here he’s just talking about a total takeover of the healthcare system, which is a non sequitur from the previous point and the modern argument as a whole.)

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I have several issues with this video- okay, I have a lot of issues with it. For the sake of brevity, I’ll limit myself. Here are some of the major issues:

1) The video is from 1978, references old studies and vague ‘stories,’ and Milton’s opinion about what will ‘inevitably’ happen. Few things are ‘inevitable.’ Gravity is not even inevitable.

2) Milton seems to like using the term ‘government’ involvement as though it’s just a blanket pejorative term. But he doesn’t outline what he means by the term. He just uses it to suggest something total and scary.

3) He also keeps mentioning the government just wholesale ‘taking over the healthcare industry,’ instead of going into competition with private industry- which is what is actually being proposed these days. Obama’s Healthcare Act proposed a government alternative to the private sector, not a takeover of the private sector. That’s sort of an ENORMOUSLY crucial difference.

4) Milton seems to imply that government regulation and government takeover are synonymous. They are not. Regulating the food industry so that it doesn’t poison us faster than it already does is not the same thing as taking it over. Regulation is not inherently a bad thing, yet Milton seems to imply that it is…at least, the tone of his argument reads that way. According to Milton, government regulation=total takeover=socialized medicine.

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I think that since 1978, history and the American temperament has shown that a total government takeover of anything is unlikely. As Americans, we pride ourselves too much on this whole ‘free market’ smokescreen. History has also shown that the big business refrain of ‘lower taxes on business = more jobs’ is a very large pile of outsourced bullshit. Wages have been largely stagnant for over the decades…unless you’re a CEO.

Handsome Man

“If we raise taxes on corporations, what incentive will they have to make money other than the fact that it’s the sole reason they exist.”    – Stephen Colbert

But I’d like to try to take the conversation out of absolutes. Away from dogma, partisan politics, talking points, and tradition. Let’s look at society as a whole. We have set up a system where certain things are done on a profit based motive. Time has now proven that certain things do not work well for society as a whole when left solely to the mercy of free markets. Sans regulations, we would have a huge mess in the food, toy, auto, drug, and home industry- because companies whose ONLY goal is to maximize profits are not always going to be concerned about safety. The humans who run them might be, but relying on the goodness of human nature doesn’t seem to be a core philosophy of any political party…ever.

There are certain things that, without regulation or oversight, get polluted with money by people who just want to make a buck. Try to tell me that the oil industry, big pharma and agri-business don’t have Congress by the short and curlies, and I’m likely going to laugh in your face. Try telling me that lobbyists don’t have an outsized influence in Washington, and I’m likely going to laugh in your face. Try telling me that regulations to protect the environment where we have to live are anti-business (cause, you know, taking care of the planet is a stupid, hippie things to do, and that makes it bad, cause it’s hippie), and I’ll likely punch you in the face. What can I say, I’m passionate.

We recognize as a society that there are certain things we agree are more important than profit (a social contract, if you will). We agree that it’s more important that our kids not play with lead-covered toys than that companies be able to profit off of cheaply, poorly made toys from China. We draw a line there. We agreed several decades ago that once you reach a certain age and had contributed to the building of our society with raising a family and working in its structures that you should- to a certain degree- be taken care of. Hence our closest encounter with socialized medicine, Medicare and Medicaid. Try taking THAT away from Americans. We agree that certain things are more important than money. There is a middle ground.

Which is why, at this point in the post, I’m going to circle around to a core issue- what does the term socialized mean? Not as a pejorative term- just as a descriptor. It’s relevant to the analysis of this video that we come from a common understanding of what we’re talking about. And I don’t have a lot of faith that many people know what it means. They keep thinking of it just as a scary word, instead of actually knowing the definition.

Socialized– (verb) To place under government or group ownership or control.

Socialized medicine– (noun) The provision of medical and hospital care for all by means of public funds.

Now, initially, I’d intended to get into the major provisions of Obama’s healthcare bill in connection with this Milton video, but that will have to end up being an entirely different post. I don’t have all day. So I’ll confine the rest of my comments to this topic- Milton’s video and his erroneous conclusions.

Milton’s conclusions in the video don’t really hold, and certainly don’t apply to what is going on now. He forgot to factor in both the American character and loads of money in politics. He also assumes a slew of things about how government involvement would go, and then bases his conclusions off of the expectation that, since it was ‘inevitable’ that things would only progress in one way, he was forecasting the only possible outcome of a certitude. (i.e. Socialized medicine is bad, and that is the only place we could possibly be headed with ‘government intervention’.)

Without getting into the specifics of Obama’s healthcare bill (in this post), I can say that there is a huge difference between regulating the healthcare industry and ‘socializing’ it. Insisting that insurance companies not engage in ruthless practices like dropping people when they get too expensive (damned cancer patients) is not the same as taking over wholesale. Suggesting that it is the same thing means that you are either 1) a Republican who is trying to get elected by scaring people, or 2) ignorant of the situation as a whole.  We can argue the degree to which government should be involved, but if you confine the argument to absolutes (“Government should totally stay out of healthcare- they have no business in the private sector”), then you’ve over-simplified an enormously complex argument.  You’ve got to be willing to look at the system as a whole, not just talking points.

To consider: How does healthcare factor into our society as a whole? Is it suitable to the needs of human beings that healthcare be strictly a for-profit industry? Has that really helped us as society in recent decades? I would say that our current situation is NOT due to too much government regulation. The people telling us that it is are untrustworthy. They stand to profit by less regulation, but so far my experience has been that when healthcare is left to the free market, it doesn’t work in the consumer’s favor. It works in the insurance company’s favor. We can argue these particular points, but not as black and white issues. I can’t really thinks of too many things that are black and white issues. I can’t think of a single black and white issue that involves money. So a more nuanced conversation is in order. One that does not diminish the argument into overly-simplistic terms.

If you have an economic point to make about anything I’ve said, I’m all ears. But do your homework first.

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