Sunday, September 6, 2009

On Socialism, the Commons, and health care

What has socialism ever done for us?

The question is one that will surely generate a lot of response. Many will look at it and say, "Nonsense! Socialism is a terrible evil that needs to be done away with!"

Most of the time, people who feel that way are referring to the fear of socialism in a Soviet sense: they are reminded of the Cold War and how America defeated the socialist threat around the world through the strength of capitalism.

But Soviet-styled socialism and the reforms that Democrats are pushing for -- often confused for socialism -- are hardly the same. The definition of what is "socialist" is different for many people. provides us with a decent definition:
...a theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole.
It is my opinion -- as well as the opinion of many Americans -- that such a system cannot work if it's applied to the society as a whole. Private enterprise ensures that competition remains strong; competition, in turn, ensures that the best product available is produced and that the consumer will pay the best price for that product (usually) rather than an artificially-created price made up by the socialist state.

There are, however, instances when some aspects of society need to be socialized. We call these the "commons," and fund them through the taxes we raise. The commons include things like a common police force, a common fire department, a common school system, a common system of parks (local, state, or national), and, perhaps surprisingly to most, a common defense (the military).

These are not things that we may consider to be constitutionally required (with the exception of the common defense that the military provides us with). There is no constitutional requirement to have a common fire department, for example. And yet, we have decided to have publicly financed fire departments throughout the nation. No one wants to have a fire break out in their house only to hear that the fire department won't put out the fire because they didn't pay the proper fee. We've made it so everyone gets the same, equal protection.

There are some -- present company included -- who believe that the commons should be extended to help those without health care coverage. There are a couple reasons for this. First, the current system is draining far more capital than it should. When patients show up to the ER without insurance, they still get treated -- but the bill gets passed on to the other patients who do have insurance.

Second, the current system is unfair. It places people who can afford insurance ahead of those who can't. Every life is equal, regardless of income level. We shouldn't value one life as more valuable than another based on the capital they have.

Finally, besides being unfair and costly, the current system is driven by profits, not care for people. Even people who pay for coverage don't always get it. High profit-earning companies concerned with making more money are not looking out for the best interests of their customers; the denial of coverage based on pre-existing conditions is proof positive of that. When people are told that their operations or medications are too costly for the company to provide while the CEOs are earning lucrative paychecks, something is wrong.

We shouldn't allow a service that is meant to help people to be driven by anything other than genuine concern for the well-being of the customers. The actions of private insurance companies are despicable, and certainly warrant action by the federal government. A public option for people to opt into -- if they want to deviate from the private options -- is a reasonable proposal to fix the health care problem in our country.

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