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Jon Stewart proposes a policy that we cannot sell. - Elf M. Sternberg
Jon Stewart proposes a policy that we cannot sell.
The NY Times "Small Business" blog points out that Jon Stewart, of all people, proposed a way the Democrats could easily sell universal health care. He pointed out that people are shackled to their desks due to fear of catastrophic health care costs. If your dream is to be a writer, save up enough money, quit your shitty desk job, and write for a year. If it doesn't pan out, you can always go get another shitty desk job. Nothing's stopping you. Worst case scenario: you end up at a shitty desk job. You're already at a shitty desk job: you're already living your worst case scenario.

Only fear of the ultimate worst case scenario: not having a shitty desk job and having a health catastrophe, keeps otherwise brilliant young men and women shackled to their penultimate worst case scenario.

If we had universal health care these people would no longer have that fear. They could become writers-- or they could found powerful companies that improve on and ultimately replace Amazon, Facebook, Merck, Goldman Sachs, Goodyear, and General Electric.

There's only one problem: those companies don't want to be replaced. They have no incentive to unshackle their most brilliant people. They have no incentive to overturn the de-facto indentured servitude that serves the corporate bottom line. They see no benefit to entrepeneurial independence. Corporate conservatism sees no benefit to universal health care.

Religious conservatives have no incentive for universal health care either. They like the fact that "the little guy" doesn't dare take entrepreneurial risks for fear of losing health coverage. As middle-of-the-road conservative David Frum approvingly wrote in his 1994 book Dead Right: "Fear makes people circumspect. It disciplines them and teaches self-control. Social security, student loans, and other government programs make it far less catastrophic than it used to be for middle-class people to dissolve their families. Without welfare and food stamps, poor people would cling harder to working-class respectability than they do not."

Capitalism isn't good, in this conservative formula, because it generates wealth. It's good because it forces people to live precarious, desperate, "disciplined" lives. It forces people into an ascetic self-denial, and fearful of the consquences of "paganistic self-expression" (as ur-conservative Isaiah Berlin called it).

So, while I approve of Stewart's formula, we shouldn't kid ourselves: a powerful capitalist economic engine in which those not currently in power are unshackled from the economic fear of catastrophic health costs is nothing businessmen or religious conservatives want, and they will fight it every step of the way.

Current Mood: annoyed annoyed
Current Music: Rob Dougan, Speeding Me Toward Death

12 comments or Leave a comment
happilymyself From: happilymyself Date: October 19th, 2012 10:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
This argument could actually work. In the end, it's the voters who vote. They're the ones that call elected officials, they're the ones who make grassroots donations, and they're the ones who know personally that every time they think of starting a business, it's healthcare that always stops them. Corporations may be people, but they can't vote.

Those are the people you reach with this message. I got converted from being 'libertarian' on this issue -- the reason you cite here was a major factor in that. If I can be persuaded, so can other people. The growing favorability polling for Obamacare shows that's possible.
lovingboth From: lovingboth Date: October 19th, 2012 11:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hmm, if this were true, those of us in places with universal health care (the rest of the developed world, more or less) would have far more entrepreneurs, artists etc than the USA.

I see it as more like the situation with music copyrights: you can tell who's had the best lobbyists over the past century. "Who cares if it works or not?"
From: (Anonymous) Date: October 20th, 2012 08:00 am (UTC) (Link)
There, I fixed it for you!

"Hmm, if this were true, ALL ELSE BEING EQUAL, those of us in places with universal health care (the rest of the developed world, more or less) would have far more entrepreneurs, artists etc than the USA,"

I thought that some other countries do have higher rates of entrepreneurship than the United States, anyway. Ironically, though, some countries' entrepreneurship rates seem largely driven by factors other than availabilty of health care that isn't dependent on a large employer. For example, in countries where most job prospects are very poor for many people, many people become small entrepreneurs rather than have no paying work at all. That is not a type of entrepreneurship to try to maximize in a society.

Can anyone point us to quality statistics on this? I certainly can't rely on mere assertions that "the United States is the most free country in the world #1 #1 #1 #1 USA!" :-)

As for artists, enough artists in some countries such as the U.K. at least used to make do on the dole and NHS for significant periods while working on their art, that I used to joke about the U.K.'s "informal system of artists' grants." :-)
memegarden From: memegarden Date: October 21st, 2012 12:54 am (UTC) (Link)
Well, Iceland has universal health care, and has the highest proportion of published authors per capita in the world. So that's one data point, anyway.
tagryn From: tagryn Date: October 21st, 2012 10:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
There's some stats on business startups by country here:

Reality is more complicated than "just unchain our restrained creativity through universal health care!" I'd also put more weight towards startups in science/technology or manufacturing, which are more likely to spawn additional jobs for others than in art or writing, where the productivity gains to be realized are more vague.

Having a year to write isn't a right, anymore than spending a year in college as a means to find oneself is. It can be done, but it isn't society's problem to solve for people.
shunra From: shunra Date: October 20th, 2012 12:58 am (UTC) (Link)

The use of fear as a motivator is obscene.

I thought the Enlightenment was precisely about getting away from the fear-based model.
It has not brought us humans far enough away, alas.
mcjulie From: mcjulie Date: October 20th, 2012 02:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
Frum is such a jerk. These wealthy right wingers are always blathering on about "the poor" as if they were a different species than the rich, with a fundamentally different psychology. If fear confers virtue upon the poor, then what is supposed to be keeping the rich in line? Should we perhaps revive the threat of the guillotine, for their own moral good?

Anyway, the actual research suggests the opposite. Willpower appears to be a finite resource, and if you use up all of it trying to stretch your inadequate budget, you don't have any left to resist other temptations. More economic certainty would breed more social stability among the poor, not less. And I think this is intuitively true -- times of great fear area the times when society breaks down. Frightened people turn on each other. And desperate people are more likely to commit crimes.
memegarden From: memegarden Date: October 21st, 2012 12:56 am (UTC) (Link)
From having just read Thinking, Fast and Slow, one of the lessons I absorbed is that people in worse situations are more willing to take risks. Among its other effects, this means that, yes, desperate people are more likely to commit crimes. At least, crimes with likely punishment.
dr_memory From: dr_memory Date: October 20th, 2012 07:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
I believe you owe John Holbo a hat tip here. :)
tagryn From: tagryn Date: October 22nd, 2012 12:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
Also, this problem is more easily solved by expanding HDHPs:
Even when I was unemployed for a while, having a HDHP was still affordable under our tight budget. If someone can't figure out a way to afford even the minimal premiums for one, that's likely a good sign that he/she should be rethinking the whole "take a whole year and do nothing but write/create" plan, at least until their finances are in better shape.
elfs From: elfs Date: October 22nd, 2012 03:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
You're one of those people who believe that most middle-class families derive significant income from interest and investment, aren't you?
tagryn From: tagryn Date: October 22nd, 2012 04:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
Just speaking from my own experience.
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