smackshack: a crude digital self-portrait (Default)
Video reposted from Dan Savage at The Slog.  This made me laugh.

I hesitate to post my own opinion on the whole health-care debate because it risks making it seem that I think I know what I'm talking about.  On the one hand I'm hesitant to expand entitlements with a "public option" given our vast national debt and not understanding how to pay for it all.  I don't believe that health care is a natural human right--it's a privilege that some of us enjoy by virtue of having a certain amount of income in a certain kind of society.

On the other hand, I don't believe that anything is a natural human right.  Life, Liberty, Property, and the Pursuit of Happiness?  Nope.  Not only are these things completely and utterly dependent on the goodwill of one's fellow human beings and the institutions they run, but there's no creator to bestow them, no omnipotent source of natural law that makes my well-being more valuable than the plant or animal that must be harvested in order to enhance my well-being.

However, I want us to strive to live as though natural rights existed.  It seems to me that these concepts are, like art and science and indoor plumbing, great accomplishments of human creativity, great tools that we can use to improve ourselves and our situation on Earth for the few years allotted to us.  So the question before us, as far as I can tell, is whether we're willing to expand our concept of rights to include a certain minimum level of health care and to build the social, financial, and technical infrastructure needed to deliver that to our citizens.

I can imagine three great benefits from such a change.  More people might be more healthy as a result--that's the most obvious.  Small businesses might be able to better compete with large ones, and individuals might be more willing to take entrepreneurial risks, if an affordable public health insurance option existed.  And if people could be reasonably assured of decent health care regardless of income, then it seems to me that a great cloud of fear might be lifted from our collective shoulders.

I don't believe that such a public policy would kill medical research in America.  Fundamentalist religion might, but universal health care would not, I think.  I don't believe that our mammoth financial and insurance conglomerates have existed in anything resembling a free market for decades, if ever, so creating a public option won't destroy a non-existent free-market capitalism.  (And anyway, perfectly free markets seem more likely to produce pharaohs and kings, in my opinion, than a libertarian paradise.) 

But the thing that most appeals to me about the idea of a robust and universal health-care or -insurance solution, though, is the idea that it might form a kind of check-and-balance in society.  The government has shown a remarkable willingness to discard the Constitution during the last several decades.  Separation of powers hasn't preserved the Bill of Rights against ethnic, religious, and nationalistic paranoia.  Public elections cause only minor shifts in the way Washington DC does business.  But a popular entitlement that's expensive and nearly impossible to get rid of, once implemented, might force us to think a bit harder in the future about whether it's really worth it to piss the national treasury away in endless land wars in Asia.

No guarantees, obviously.  We are a warlike people.  But the point of a constitutional democracy is to ameliorate such tendencies.  We measure the quality of a civilization by the zeal with which it creates and defends certain privileges--otherwise known as rights--enjoyed by its citizens.  Maybe it's time for the United States to take the art of civilization to slightly higher level.


smackshack: a crude digital self-portrait (Default)

June 2012



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