Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Do you deserve to live?

The capitalist system places a dollar value on everything and everyone. More dollars mean greater value. Greater value means greater virtue, because success is money, and success is good. The rich really are better than the rest of us, simply because they are rich.

When ambition is satisfied with modest returns, a money-based system can perk along fairly sustainably. But ambition is a virtue in the pursuit of money, and the power that money represents. A money-seeking system stimulates ambition.

When someone's pursuit of money succeeds enough to surpass a certain threshold, the money itself attracts more money. But social forces will also be trying to strip away that money, as other seekers try to get their own pile. A big enough pile of money creates its own community, feeding off of it and supporting it, which is why immensely wealthy people are not bled dry and left as stripped carcasses. The ownership of the fortune is irrelevant to the industry that forms to exploit it. The symbionts know better than to kill the host.

Sometimes the symbionts turn into parasites and do kill the host. Or the pile of money is too small to breed its own protective colony of workers and soldiers, so rival colonies raid it. Picture the poor schmoe whose investment portfolio tanks, leaving him without a retirement income just when he needs it. Sorry, loser! Please see the Assisted Suicide Department for your new retirement plan.

Unfortunately, fortunes are often made in destructive endeavors. The supporting community that feeds off of the wealth at the center of it must therefore serve the destructive enterprise faithfully in order to maintain position. The destructive enterprises tear down society as a whole, but this only makes the island built around wealth look like a more vital refuge against personal failure, poverty, and misery.

All the while, humans have been getting better and better at staying alive. Even during the mass slaughter of World War II, the human population went up, as we fought back against the diseases and famines that had always been more deadly to us than our own aggressive tendencies. All those people want to live. They look for the necessities first and luxuries soon afterward.

Clearly, a lot of the world's population still seeks to secure the necessities, while a privileged minority seeks more and more luxury. That privileged core shrinks steadily as it attracts more and more resources to itself. This places an ever growing number of people at risk of calamity.

A major part of the problem is the ever growing number itself. Instinct drives us to replicate. Hardship encourages us to replicate more energetically, so that someone might survive to carry on. Instinct never notices how successful this imperative has already been. And instinct gets awfully whiny when intellect tries to take a different path.

In a world already carrying more people than the ecosystem can support, people from many different belief systems can see the value of eliminating some of them. The ranks of the disposable will vary depending on the belief system. Even that is based in instinct, as our centuries of warfare over territory and resources will attest.

The United States is currently under the control of a faction that believes with religious fervor in the notion that your monetary worth defines your actual worth. They'll pay lip service to charity, but their actions betray the sink or swim mentality that motivates their policies. It's pay to play here in the land of the free.

Pay to play sounds okay as a way to eliminate the dead wood, as long as you believe that a person's ability to attract money is the primary filter by which we should select. Get a job, slacker! Pull your weight! No work, no eat! Of course a sufficiently disciplined communist or socialist society could say the same things, without the slippery pricing structure. Truly inert people are a drain on any form of society. But in capitalism as currently practiced in the United States, every person is an independent contractor, trying to negotiate prices in a hostile marketplace where everything is priced for the vendors' maximum profit.

I'll bet insurance actuaries have already figured out the optimum lifespan that will provide the most profit. This information will be more tightly guarded than the nuclear launch codes, and is potentially more explosive. But it is also a moving target, as the people's earning power changes. For vast numbers of us, that change is downward.

Is downward bad? A massive die-off, particularly among industrialized nations, would take a lot of pressure off of the environment. First you become poor. Then the industrialist system makes sure you die of it. The industrialist system subsequently dies because no one is left to buy its products, but it's a good run of quarterly reports leading up to that. Think of mass death among the poor as the ultimate layoff.

I try to be a useful citizen, but I set myself against the destructive economy decades ago. Thus, I have been worthless to society my entire adult life. Promoting tolerance and a gentle, largely non-motorized lifestyle is an attack on what the monetarians believe makes this country great. If a younger generation decides I was on the right track, norms may shift, but I fear it will be too late for me. Even if the social climate embraces sustainable and kindly practices, it may discover that longevity is itself unsustainable. A person needs to be contributing to the general welfare. Anyone who does not is just an expensive pet. That includes Grandmom and Granddad. Who cares if you're still enjoying yourself? If we have to chip in for expensive medical interventions, you need to go out into the wilderness and quit burdening the tribe.

It's easy to play with such thought experiments until the pangs of age start to chip away at you. Life is a habit. Even in my darkest depression (so far) I don't want to give it up. But logic inclines me more frequently to run a balance sheet on myself to see if it might be time to get out of the way. I dread the day when I can't make the equation work in my favor. I also find myself running the calculation every morning.

Having failed to provide myself with the protective cocoon of money I would need to pay for the various medical services that an aging person requires, I don't deserve to live, as far as capitalism is concerned. I can spin the game out a bit longer by selling my home and most of my possessions. Poor people don't deserve homes and possessions. And in nature, any creature that can no longer furnish a nest and dodge predators will shortly become food. So by any measure, the vast majority of humans do no good, even if they do no harm. The bottom line is suffering. Ask not what the money supply can do for you. Ask what you can do for the money supply.

Friday, March 03, 2017

Why health care fails in the USA

Most of the opposition to universal health care in America is based on our longstanding traditions of greed and double crossing.

The colonies that became the United States were founded as business ventures. Religious dissenters may have been used to staff some of them, but that was because they provided a substantial number of people willing to relocate far, far away. Along with their conscientious convictions, they had obligations to provide returns to their investors. As far as the investors were concerned, the obligations were all that mattered. This was the leading edge of capitalist expansion.

Business thrives on a certain amount of deceit. Profit is itself the amount that a business is able to overcharge for goods and services, in order to have funds to invest in things like other ventures, and the egotistical indulgences of people in charge. We put up with a little of it. The businesses push for a little more. Various forces push back if they can. But between nations, and against indigenous peoples, the deceit includes frequent signing -- and then violation -- of treaties. As the colonies became the nation and the nation developed, deals were struck in back rooms, palms were greased, and history written to show that the good guys always won.

Time and again the little guys have been reminded that the big guys look out for themselves first, and the rabble a distant second. We're conditioned to expect to be double crossed if we're not paying constant attention to how the cards are being dealt. It's almost a point of pride.

We do have our traditional belief in honesty and integrity, truth and justice, freedom and equality. But little of that was reflected in the period when robber barons amassed legendary fortunes to set the contemptible standard of wealth that still afflicts us.

All this conditions us to expect that any system will be gamed, and that cheaters will abound at the top and the bottom. What do you hear most often from people carping about social programs? They hate paying for freeloaders. And the second most common thing? They fear that the system will be inefficient and corrupt. It does not matter to them that the current system is already inefficient and corrupt. They assume, from historical precedent, that the government and corporate interests will collude to fix prices to the advantage of rich investors, and that the users of the programs will most likely be goldbricking slackers.

There is more support for the first contention than for the second. Most Americans work as hard a they can. Some strivers are fortunate enough to be able to find enough jobs to work way more than the 40-hour week we were once led to believe was a reasonable standard. Others fail to connect as well with virtuous toil,  and end up living with their parents for a few decades, or falling onto public assistance. And yes, there are goldbricking slackers, but to assume that the person you see using food stamps or lining up for unemployment is just a loser with low morals looks through a pretty distorted lens. Most people have dreams and hopes. Unrealistic though many of them may be, they're generally innocent enough.

When it comes to health care, I often hear that objectors to a universal system don't want to pay for someone else's health care.

You pay for someone else's health care whenever you do business with a company that provides benefits for its employees. You pay for someone else's health care whenever you pay your own insurance premium. You pay for someone else's health care whenever you pay your taxes. By inserting the overhead costs and profit desires of insurance companies into a haphazard agglomeration of risk pools, we jack our own costs higher and higher. The idea that you are not paying for someone else's problems is a dangerous illusion. We all pay for other people's problems, and we always will. Even in libertarian anarchy we would pay dearly for other people's problems, as they acted them out without restraint for as far as they could extend their influence.

Accepting for the moment that we will believe in the innocence and integrity of most clients of a universal health care system, that still leaves the cheaters on the supply side. Only the unwavering resolve of a citizen government will restrain that. Raising children with better ethics will help keep such a government going. Abandon the unrealistic expectation that anyone can become filthy rich and that it's perfectly fine to try.

The social contract becomes complicated when it depends on the good faith and responsible behavior of large numbers of people, but the only alternatives are authoritarianism or anarchy. Put the unruly mob under an iron heel, or pull off all the controls and let the forces of nature bring tides of slaughter, interrupted by brief respites of exhaustion. Breed without restraint, planning on the deaths of many. Become less attached to specific people, places and things, because all will be in danger. Let most of civilization go. It's too expensive and complicated to maintain.

Reproduction is a controversial issue. The compulsion is basic and powerful. On the one hand, I can imagine a thoughtful society replenished by small families with carefully raised children. On the other hand, who knows where the next great mind might come from? The fruitfully multiplying crowd says to replicate early and often. On yet another hand, each generation uses the ideas that are born near it and within it to interpret and shape the world in which they find themselves. You never know to miss what you never had. So controlling the inflow to population seems much better than speeding up the outflow to maintain sustainable levels. Otherwise, any social system will be overwhelmed.

A democratic government, even on a republican model, requires educated, informed citizens asking good questions and focusing on the balance between the desires and needs of individuals and the best interests of the group. That seems to be falling apart, as the desires of individuals and sub-groups supersede the national interest. And that national interest has to acknowledge that the nation exists on a finite planet with other people on it. Conquest has not been possible, nor should it be. All we are left with is cooperation or annihilation. Didn't someone we revere once say "Join or Die?"
It goes beyond the borders of 13 colonies or 50 states now. We don't have to like each other. But we are stuck with each other. We have to figure out how to make it work.