Saturday, April 07, 2012

Strange Ideas

It seems to me there are some truly strange ideas floating around in American culture these days. The “Student loan crisis” is a good case in point. On the one hand we presumably want our nation to be among the best educated and competitive in the world, but at the same time we have turned our Colleges and Universities into institutions so expensive they are increasingly harder for most students to attend, and those that do attend emerge significantly in debt. It is said that student loans now exceed one trillion dollars and the interest rates are about to double. Does this not strike you as strange? It seems to me if the goal is to have a wonderfully educated population that is clearly in the national interest, education should be free, or at least minimally expensive, as it is in many countries. What is worse is there are some who now want to privatize our schools, that is, run them for a profit. This is an absolutely terrible idea. In fact, it is profit that has turned our educational system into the totally dysfunctional mess it is now. That is, when the banks discovered they could make a profit by giving loans to students, essentially making a profit from education, we were lulled into the current system whereby in order to attend the increasingly expensive institutions students and their parents were forced to borrow more and more. The universities and colleges, aware of funds available for students did not hesitate to raise their tuitions and other costs accordingly. Publishers too, did not hesitate to increase the price of textbooks that have now become so exorbitantly expensive many professors no longer use them. So instead of having an efficient and cost-effective educational system to produce the kinds of workers we profess to need, we now have a system that exploits students and parents exorbitantly. Education is a vital requirement for any modern society to flourish, to exploit it for profit is scandalous.

Prisons, too, have been increasingly privatized, an idea so ludicrous one would have to laugh were the implications not so serious. If you have prisons run for profit rather than for the protection and good of society at large, what would you expect to happen? In order to insure a profit you first of all have to have a large enough population to keep them filled, thus promoting potential collusion between police, judges, and local authorities of all kinds to insure there will be enough wrongdoers to fill them. They then fill up with non-violent offenders, pot smokers, and others who really do not belong there in the first place. It also means cutting costs for food, amenities, professional counseling, education, and so on, which in turn increases recidivism.

Also, it seems to me in my economic ignorance, that if you want to insure something like “full employment,” that is never truly full but at least an approximation of it, you cannot expect to have it if you depend upon a profit driven capitalistic economy. Businesses and corporations are only going t o hire the people they need to insure their maximum profits. They are not going to hire people out of the goodness of their hearts. It is in their best interest to have an overabundant labor force as that keeps wages and perquisite costs as low as possible. Similarly, if the government itself creates employment, that interferes with the labor market and can drive the costs of labor up. Unions, too, are a threat for the same reason. Thus a capitalistic system is antithetical to a society with full employment. When labor is merely a commodity like any other commodity, as it must be in a capitalistic economy, you cannot expect either full employment or human welfare to flourish. Market capitalism is basically in opposition to the professed needs of a true democracy. To believe otherwise seems to me, again, a truly strange idea.

Private enterprise is poisonous to anything that is essential to the smooth functioning of a society dedicated to the well-being of its citizenry. This is true of energy costs, the management of water, the health of the environment, and all of the most basic requirements. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the matter of health care, if, that is, you believe all citizens should be entitled to such care without having to declare bankruptcy due to illness. To leave health care in the hands of the private insurance industry is basically insane. Insurance adds nothing to health care and, in fact, drives up the costs incessantly. The profits of the insurance industry, that are, of course, considerable, come primarily through the misery and death of the clientele. If you have a pre-existing condition you cannot even get insured, if your costs exceed some arbitrary limit on your benefits you can be dropped and just left to die, if you are a woman you pay more, and so on and on. It is perfectly obvious virtually to everyone, including I am sure even the insurance industry itself, that by far the most efficient, inexpensive, thorough, and best system of health care possible would be a single payer system that most industrialized nations have. But with banks and insurance companies basically in charge of our Congress with respect to health care, and with the ridiculous promotion of the idea of the superiority of private enterprise over government, we seem to be helpless to change to an obviously better system.

Color me naïve, even uniformed, perhaps stupid, but I do not understand how a true democracy can possibly flourish over time under a system of unfettered market capitalism. Money is not the root of all evil. Money itself is merely a medium of exchange. Profit, and certainly excess profit, is the obvious culprit. Social democracy is the only available realistic solution.

Many people consider the things which government does for them as social progress, but they consider the things government does for others as socialism.
Earl Warren

1 comment:

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