09 August 2009

A Difference of Viewpoint

The current US healthcare debate (and the continual prying by various Canadian right-wing parties at the universality of health care in Canada) has afflicted me with an insight.

The debate is almost always framed as being about money; "this costs to much", "that's too much to pay for the benefit received", "single-payer costs less for equivalent result", and so on.

I don't think any of this is accurate.

It comes down to competing viewpoints, all right, but the expression of the viewpoints via money is a side effect of having had everything but capitalism hammered out of the space of legitimate public discourse since 1950 or so. (Yes, even in Canada. You have to say, ritually, that this is an area in which markets do not apply before you go on and propose something in the public benefit, and there's always a strong set of voices for the if-someone-doesn't-profit-it's-not-allowed viewpoint.) I don't see the difference between sides on healthcare (or a great many other things) as being inherently or even really importantly about money, nor any of the money things—tax policy, appropriate uses for public funds, and so on—that get attached to questions of money in the public sphere.

There's the side that feels the purpose of society is to conserve the effects of luck, and the other side that feels that the purpose of society is to make luck unimportant.

The "conserve luck" side is, deliberately or inevitably, evil; it's the view that people should have the course of their lives determined not by effort or work but by chance. It's a great position for those who have had good luck, along with (sometimes) great effort, and are now in comfortable or wealthy positions, and wish to ensure that their relative social position remains unchanged. It's a terrible position for everyone else, especially as the effort of conserving good luck from generations ago starts to distort the economic structure into a machine for transferring wealth and value to a static elite.

The "make luck unimportant" side is the side of good; this is the side of increased generally realizable access to choice. (Which is to say, just because your parents never lucked out, you still get a good education and the opportunity for a prosperous and productive life.) It's the side of putting absolute access to power—which is another way to say choice; what problems can be solved, at what cost?—ahead of relative access to power, and never mind the monkey-brain.

"Make luck unimportant" is also the side that doesn't seem to have any coherent ability to articulate its position. I find this perplexing, but oh well. There's a bunch of things that could be said "fair start", the "as good as anybody", sensible, sane part of the general Yankee egalitarianism (the "and better than some" part is the no, don't go there, bad, leads to moral offended-ness part, but the "as good as anybody (if you do the work)" part? That's sound), the whole notion of opportunity and innovation depending on the sharing of information, the idea that we're all in this—everybody on the whole planet, "we"—together.

A lot of that has to be the control of the US media by the same plutocrats who have legalized bribery as the mechanism of legislative control in the US federal government. But a lot of it is also the general acceptance of capitalism as the be-all and end-all of organizational philosophies.

That's a mistake; we know it's a mistake because we're watching the very public, very messy, very global death of the efficient markets hypothesis right now. What to replace it with?

Well, how about empiricism? Rather than picking a platonic ideal dependent on some other kind of people than we've actually got, why not toss the whole man-the-failed-angel notion and set out to figure out what you can do with some pretty darn good ground apes, specialized for co-operating in groups, and the—splendid, and getting splendider—communications technology we've got.

By that standard, there's absolutely no reason to make luck important. There's absolutely no reason to try to utterly stamp out its side effects, either—somebody is always going to go first, often for highly contingent reasons—but enshrine it as the fixed ordering principle of society? Pfft. That's accepting broad suffering in shipload lots so some few persons of highly dubious character can go on believing they're better than you.


Ken said...

I realized some time ago that the only belief I hold that approximates an economic ideology is that people ought not to be held responsible for doing a bad job of choosing their parents.

What are the Egalitarian Party's membership dues, anyway? :)

Graydon said...

For the Egalitarian Party to have membership dues, it would have to have more than one present member. :)

I came up with the Egalitarian Party in an attempt to answer who I would want to vote for, after the Federal Liberal Party in Canada decided -- the rank-and-file having been sufficiently distressed by the previous election's results -- to endorse an advocate of aggressive war and torture as their leader, which meant I couldn't vote for any of their candidates thereafter.

Since I lack essential fund-raising skills to start a political party, writing about it is pretty much a purely literary exercise, vague hopes that someone with fund-raising skill will get interested notwithstanding.

Kai Jones said...

I come at it from a different perspective, although yours will inform mine in the future. I wrote about my take on the health care debate on my blog.

Graydon said...

Hi Kai --

I read your post; I responded to it with a whole other post of my own, at http://dubiousprospects.blogspot.com/2009/08/access-to-choice.html

Since it was a bit long to stick in a comment either here or at your blog.

Jeremy Leader said...

Shouldn't everyone pay exactly the same amount as dues to the Egalitarian Party, whether they're a member or not?

Graydon said...

Jeremy --

No, no, those are Levellers.

Egalitarians assert that the proper answer to "are you special?" is "no" in all cases. Insisting on non-members paying dues would be claiming that the members were special, which would be right out.