As Congress gears up for the fight to defend the half-baked health care program Obama was able to get past the insurance companies, it’s important for Americans to know that we did not win the Cold War. By the latter half of the twentieth century, the competition for Third World allies was over, and the two superpowers had ceased to build up their obscene hoards of arms. If you think about it, the fight with the Soviet Union boiled down to conflicting opinions on the role of government.
By the time Mikhail Gorbatchev became First Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, the regime had long since ceased to be monolithic. In 1986, he introduced perestroika “the development of democracy, socialist self-government, encouragement of initiative and creative endeavor, utmost respect for the individual and consideration for personal dignity." Two years later he introduced glasnost, or openness and transparency in the activities of all government institutions, together with freedom of information. Following upon these two major reforms, the transformation of the Soviet Union from a centrally-planned economy under one-party to something approaching a Western-style democracy was inevitable.
The United States is thirty years behind, just beginning to admit that there are different views of the proper role of government. It might never have done so had it not been for the half-baked health care program that President Obama was able to win from the insurance com-panies. Yet polls and reports tell us that Americans are the only civilized people on the face of the earth who would prefer to pay exorbitant sums for their health care rather than see it as a major item in the nation’s bud-get, alongside war and education.
A few courageous politicians such as Dennis Kucinich or Russ Feingold have dared to suggest that health care is a right, not a privilege. They need to let the American people know that an overwhelming majority of the world’s people want their health care to be financed through taxes to their government, who pays the bills, rather than having to go into hock to do so individually.
Unlike for-profit companies, the government has every incentive to keep you healthy at the least cost. It was inevitable that the centralized Soviet system would eventually collapse under the weight of its own inefficiencies, but none of the countries liberated from Soviet rule has embraced for-profit health care. (China did, and is now trying to correct its mistake.) When a capitalist system is no longer based on the production and sale of goods but on fictitious money with nowhere to go, it too collapses, as we are witnessing.
We should not wait for China to present us with the bill to start creating a different system, in which capital is regulated by government so that it once again serves a useful purpose.
People around the world who do not benefit from single-payer health care wish they did. Only Americans believe the fairy tale that if government is in charge, terrible things will happen to you. We need to realize that government and private sector employees being inter-changeable, government can be as innovative and efficient as Microsoft.
As long as Americans believe that we ‘won’ the Cold War, i.e., the dispute over the role of government, it will be difficult for politicians to confess that we are the only developed country that has not embraced some form of social democracy. This is also a ‘mixed economy’, in which the private sector is regulated and government makes sure everyone has a decent standard of living. It quite naturally involves some form of cradle to grave single-payer health care for all, with fancy private care as an option.
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