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Wednesday, April 07, 2010

America's Renewed Social Contract

From what I have gathered from the spit and bile coming from American conservatives in the wake of Obama’s victorious passage of health care reform, their resentment lies mostly in an irrational fear that some people may receive benefits without contributing. Once again whoever is behind the curtain of conservative politics in America has done a fine job of pitting our lower classes against one another. Most of these teabaggers are middle class and below citizens and for some reason they think they are the only people in America who work for a living. The rest of us are either fabulously wealthy movie stars or welfare cheats.

One of the things this health care reform will do is to finally impose a bit of a tax burden on America’s wealthiest citizens, something we haven’t seen since Reagan lowered tax rates for this small, elite group and thus causing the greatest disparity of income in our country’s history. Just the mere mention of attempting to balance out incomes in America will send the rank and file teabaggers into fits of apoplexy. They don’t want anyone to get anything for free, so they say. No one ever gave them anything for free, except public schools, roads, national defense, fire and police protection, etc. Of course none of these things are free, we all pay for them with taxes, and of course national health care as it functions in Europe is not free. In Spain the right to health care is actually written into their constitution.

It’s called a social contract and it goes something like this. A person plays by the rules, works hard her entire life, perhaps serves his country in some way, and then this person should expect something from this society, things like social order, national defense, infrastructure (roads, bridges, public transportation, etc.). They expect police and fire protection and the rule of law. In advanced societies this social contract has included health care so that the citizen is not preyed upon by a system that puts profit ahead of health care. Something as fundamental to human health and happiness as medical care is best left to the citizenry. This is something the anti-government, anti-democratic conservatives can never seem to understand: who is the government? In a democracy it is the people.

The quality of health care is a measurable item and all measurements say that the best health care systems in the world are government-run. Spain’s system is rated 7th in the world and this is not the 7th richest country in the world. Sure, there are problems with the Spanish system but not cataclysmic problems as with the American system that had reached a point of dire crisis—and how else could you define a system that has excluded some 50 million citizens? Spanish hospitals are modern, health care is excellent, and you pay nothing out-of-pocket for a hospital stay. Furthermore, their system has controlled costs much better than its American counterpart. If you had to pay for an emergency room visit as a foreigner you would pay a fraction of what it would cost in the United States.

Europeans in general pay much higher taxes than in America but they demand much more from their governments. Most countries here have great public transportation which means you don’t have to own a car—a lifestyle impossible for the majority of Americans who rely on their cars for nearly every trip away from home. There is also not nearly as much disparity between the rich and poor in Europe. If there is one single thing that I think most threatens democracy in America it is the enormous wealth that is being gathered by the top 1% of the population. We have already lived through the days of serfs and royalty and we didn’t like it much. Why have conservatives been so intent on putting us on a direct path back to the days of the super-rich and their peasant servant class?

By all accounts our middle class has been shrinking since the Reagan tax cuts while the top income earners have seen enormous increases in their accumulation of the national economic pie. If there is a way to look at the growing imbalance of incomes in a positive light then someone needs to let me know. If there is a coherent reason why we shouldn’t tax the rich at the former rates, back when America was much less of a class-divided country, please let me know.

According to the Right, all of America’s problems are the result of the parasitic lower classes who are only looking for welfare checks, free lunches, and now free health care. I have news for these folks: no society was ever brought down by the lower classes. Failure has always been caused by the elites, and in America’s case that would be the richest few citizens who want even more and who want to contribute even less. They also oppose any sort of inheritance tax so that they can create new monarchies here in the country created to escape the dictatorship of royalty. What was George W. Bush but a medieval earl or duke, completely lacking in talent and brains but who was raised to the throne through the fact of his royal birth? Citizens should be allowed to pass on businesses and houses to their offspring, but not dynasties.

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