Friday, March 13, 2009

The American Dream is a Fairy Tale!

Today I have to put a long-term project aside to write a blog.  It’s been simmering for a while, but when I saw a retired physician offering a year’s worth of medical care free, while potential retirees try to prolong their time in the shrinking job market, that did it.

What’s my gripe?  CNN (for better or worse, my bell weather cable news channel), continues to play the human interest angle while offering zero substantive analysis.  This is not to belittle Ali Velshi and his financial colleagues, who do an excellent job within the confines of the all-American principle of objectivity.  The problem is, so-called objectivity (for there really is no such animal) edges out ideological - or even scientific - analysis every time.

Yesterday when I turned the tv back on at five o‘clock my dial was still tuned to Drexel University’s local channel on which I’d listened to Democracy Now over lunch. They were broadcasting a labor union meeting that took place a while back in the state of Washington. In contrast to the blow by blow account of the ways business harasses employees who try to set up a union, one speaker showed a recent Paris street scene, filled as far as the eye could see with protesters carrying huge banners and signs. The audience immediately erupted in cheers. In five minutes, that program showed what people in other countries do routinely to defend their rights, and why we can’t do the same thing in the United States. When pictures of workers demonstrating in other countries appear on the corporate news channels, the dismissive tone of the anchor reinforces the message: we don’t do that here: we use the ballot box to achieve the American Dream. Indeed we do go to the polls, and we have costly campaigns, but the reason why Americans can only dream of the good life is that the media has folded these tools into one gigantic fairy tale, which goes like this: “Ideology is a false God that leads to mob rule, which is the opposite of democracy. We are a democratic country of laws, therefore AIG cannot break its bonus contracts, but workers can be forced to renegotiate contracts when things go south for the companies they work, for because without employers people couldn’t earn a living.” Now back to the retired doctor who admits that he can afford to treat people for nothing because he was paid for many years. That is the clearest illustration of the fact that medical charges (the ones your insurance pays if you are lucky), have no relation to overhead, education, or a fair salary for a day’s work: medical costs are inflated by the insurance companies as part of a general trend in this country (which led to the present world financial crisis), to base everything on the requirements of the financial sector, whose activities now dwarf those of all other sectors combined. People are not only encouraged to purchase everything they need on credit, which is bad enough, companies and individuals are encouraged to borrow money where once it was considered normal to save. To be more specific: if you have a small business, your bank will lend you money so that you can advertise (the cost of which will inflate the price you charge for your project). It will advance you money for payroll, which you will repay with interest when money comes in, interest which will be added to the price you charge your customers for your service or product. Worse, it will encourage you to adopt this modus operandi, making you believe it entails no risks and can go on forever. But in the real world fairy tales don’t goon forever, or have happy endings. If you extrapolate this very real description of the way things work in this country now to the provision of health care, you get doctors who start by charging you $160 to tell him what your problem is, them $500 more for an examination that takes five minutes using a device that has long been amortized. He can do this because the insurance company that will - if you are lucky - pick up the tab, is part and parcel of a larger entity called “the financial sector” which has replaced the growing of food and the production of things as the major economic sector. So that when President Obama says he cannot fix the economy until he fixes health care, he’s right. But he will not only have to computerize records: he will need to persuade the entire country to do business differently. The good news is that if he did that, the rest of the world would applaud him. The bad news is that it’s not likely to happen, because our political system has for so long been based on a fairy tale (you elect representatives who live on their salaries and make dispassionate decisions for the good of the greatest number). Only when CNN gives a seminar on utilitarianism, or interdependence, or the history of government involvement in our economic system, will Americans be able to stop dreaming and start living.