Minimalist governance is not answer to problems
Nov 18, 2013 at 9:29 AM
I clipped a letter that appeared in Forum on Oct. 23 under the headline: “Liberals destroy freedom.” I kept it for its language — well ordered, well organized, reasonably concise, but with not one sentence of evidence to support its thesis.The author wrote: “Governmental control of health care will forge, as planned, shackles stronger and more suppressive than the worst of any slave era.” And he also commented that “humanity’s once most vibrant and powerful society reduced to mindless puppetry.”For a conservative to pen such frantic imaginings over a market-driven reform seems counterproductive to conservative goals. Competition between insurance companies has already begun to bring down costs, so where do shackles and mindless puppetry begin? Doctors can focus on preventive care and long-term health, which is more cost effective than the emergency room for primary care, isn’t it? The writer’s allusion to “100-plus years of failed, destructive social programs” needs explaining. Together Social Security and Medicare add up to 100-plus years, so I assume those are the programs our writer referenced. Does our experience with them really give reason to fear a third rail that, for the first time, gives all of us access to a personal relationship with a doctor?The letter I am referring to shows strong tea party libertarianism. It’s important to know that the minimalist governance such people endorse is inherently utopian because it’s essentially untested. Societies don’t order their lives that way. The little island of Mauritius is trying, but we wouldn’t like it. The infant mortality and deaths from childbirth rates are double ours, which are double those in other industrialized countries — all of which provide health care for each citizen. Singapore tries to govern by Darwinian capitalism, but it does it by suppressing dissent to the point of being a veritable police state.On the other end of the scale is Denmark, with a political system profoundly antithetical to tea party libertarianism. Here’s their way: Health care, child care, education and protection for the unemployed and elderly are part of a “solidarity system” designed to prevent anyone from falling into economic despair. The minimum wage is around $15 an hour and people who are legitimately out of the labor market and unable to take care of themselves have a base guarantee of about $100 a day.High quality health care is universal and free with citizenship and far more cost- effective than ours, at 11 percent GDP compared to our 18 percent. Citizens choose their own doctors. Prescriptions are inexpensive and free to children under 18. Health outcomes rank high globally.The state covers at least three-fouths of child care cost, more for lower-income parents. The Danes understand how important to intellectual and emotional development are the first years of life, so mothers get four weeks paid leave before giving birth and the 14 weeks following. Dads get two paid weeks, and both parents can take 32 more weeks of leave during the first nine years of a child’s life. Virtually all higher education is free — both college and graduate school, including medical school — with no burdensome student loans.Denmark invests heavily in training programs so their workers learn the skills for changing work force demands. Unemployment insurance covers up to 90 percent of earnings for as long as two years. Forget the notion of “takers” as unemployment is very low. Every worker is entitled to five weeks paid vacation, plus 11 paid holidays. Seventy-five percent belong to trade unions. Danes have a thriving middle class.The conservatives among us will cry “socialism,” but Denmark is a model for democratic principles. Their policies evolved over decades, are supported by all political parties and are upheld, election after election, by an educated and engaged populace, 90 percent of whom vote regularly. Yes, taxes are very high but they choose that because they know what they have is worth paying for. And, guess what, for it they rank among the highest on the “happiness” scale from a study of 40 nations. (We didn’t break the top 10.)I’ve no illusions. Denmark is a small country of 5.5 million homogeneous people, while we are a melting pot of more than 315 million. Might it not be smart, though, for us to consider that some things we’d do well to guarantee each other, like affordable, uncomplicated access to health care? From my experience with Medicare, I think we’d be smart to open it up for anyone to buy in. It’s an anxiety-free course to health care, overhead runs around 3 to 4 percent, and the system is ready, tested and proven.I recently went into Food City with the idea of looking into the face of each employee I encountered while reminding myself that this person is giving up a little bit of his or her salary every month to pay for my Social Security and Medicare, as I did once for those older than me, to see if it enhanced my experience. It did. Those Danes — freely choosing fairness, tolerance, compassion and finding it in everyone they meet with happiness to boot.Conservatives, the next time you write for our edification, define “freedom” ... please.Jennie Young of Elizabethton is a retired language arts teacher.