Saturday, September 22, 2012

Matters of Life and Death

© Charles D. Hayes
When it’s war, or even the threat of war, we Americans pull out all stops and forge ahead, sparing no effort or expense, to ensure victory. If needed, we will impose a draft, increase taxes, build ships, aircraft, missiles, and weapons of mass destruction, the likes of which the world has ever seen. On land, air, and sea, we will destroy any enemy that threatens the lives of our citizens. If one of our soldiers is trapped behind enemy lines, we will send whatever resources it takes to free the individual from harm. If our troops are killed, we will go to extraordinary lengths to retrieve their bodies, even risking others’ lives if necessary, and we will continue these efforts for decades after war ends.
We maintain the largest and most powerful military force on the planet in order to make it clear that attacking us will be a suicidal mission. Protecting our citizens is so powerful an ethos that we will even furnish legal services at public expense when a fellow American is charged with a crime. After all, this could be a matter of life and death.
Suppose, though, that our fallen soldier's mother, sister, aunt, or grandmother's life is threatened by an illness like breast cancer, and she can't afford medical insurance. What do we do then? Raise armies? Raise taxes? Send forth doctors and surgeons dressed in fatigues? Not at all. Not only do we stand by and watch them die slowly from a lack of treatment, but nearly half of our population characterizes attempts to remedy this moral failure as an assault on their freedom.
Indeed, in a way, freedom is at play here—unlimited freedom for profits. The charge that Obamacare is a government takeover of healthcare, actually means that the government is limiting the ability of the insurance industry to make runaway profits at the expense of medical treatment. Hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent to incite and inspire rage about this alleged loss of personal freedom.     
So let's talk about freedom—like the freedom to continue living when one is attacked by an illness that doesn't require armies or multi-million dollar bombs to cure, only a health insurance policy that works more for the benefit of patients rather than for insurance companies. Before Obamacare, thousands of people hung onto jobs they despised simply because they were afraid of losing their insurance. That's lack of freedom.
The argument that mandated insurance coverage results in an actual loss of freedom is such an assault on common sense and common decency that it defies any and all attempts to explain it in the context of what it means to be protected under the umbrella of American citizenship.
The current political polarization motivated by the millions of dollars spent on behalf of the insurance lobby has become so vitriolic that much of the goodwill that gives us a sense of national identity as Americans has been lost. Blind rage stands in for civilized dialogue, as extreme Tea Party types express an anxious willingness to sink the ship of state and drown everyone if they can't have everything their own way. They view themselves as the only true Americans.      
Stopping at nothing to prevent a loss of life in war and then looking the other way when private citizens are threatened—not by an army, but by a lack of enough monetary resources to cover the cost of treatment—is a kind of social madness that can only occur when benevolence is trampled by seething contempt. Such derision is made possible by so alienating one's opposition as to think them unworthy of being considered one of us. This has to be the case unless being an American and having one's life threatened is meaningless. Populist scorn has become so ubiquitous that an audience broke into cheering at a presidential political debate earlier this year at the mere mention of letting someone die who had elected not to purchase health insurance.
The current level of political insanity can be seen for what it is when you realize fully that the blueprint for Obamacare was drawn up by conservatives and only became toxic when the opposition adopted it. The push for unfettered profit at the expense of medical care has resulted in an orchestrated pandemic of political hostility paid for by the insurance lobby. This is something to keep in mind when you vote in November: War and serious illness are matters of life and death and should not be considered profit centers or political talking points.
Our service men and women who have been killed in battle deserve something more for the relatives they left behind than derision and alienation because they need a doctor and don't have enough personal wealth to cover the cost. If the people shouting about mandated insurance encroaching on their personal freedom would stop listening to the rebel rousers and simply think, they would realize that the sacrifices our service men and women have made on the battlefield should cover the cost of those who can't afford medical treatment. If being an American means anything, it means the bill has been paid in full.  
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Saturday, September 1, 2012

Job Creator Mythology

© Charles D. Hayes
When I was a teenager in the 1950s, gasoline was cheap but cash was hard to come by. It was common practice to carry a siphon hose in one's car because friends would frequently run out of gas. With a hose you could get just enough gas from a friend's car to reach a gas station without having to get a can and make two trips. The hose was also useful for getting gas from the parents' vehicles.
A siphoning hose uses atmospheric pressure and gravity to cause fluid to flow, once started, without further efforts. When adequate pressure is reached, the flow continues unabated as long as there is a sufficient source of liquid. This makes a great analogy for our economy because the notion of using an economic stimulus works exactly like the siphon hose. Get it going with sufficient force, and it will continue on its own as long as there is a demand.
Jump-starting the economy versus austere measures is an ideological hurdle in politics. Which method works best? What has this got to do with job creation? Good questions, indicating it’s high time to take a fresh look at conventional wisdom. My generation grew up in a world where loyalty to one's employer was expected. It was supposed to be reciprocal, but the economy was strong enough that loyalty to the employee was seldom put to the test. Most people were prone to give their employer the benefit of the doubt when it came to the question of allegiance. So, when one's attitude toward their employer is to be grateful for having been employed, it just seems like common sense to think of employers as job creators. Hold that thought for a moment.
In the Midwest there are companies with caravans of harvesting combines who travel northward harvesting wheat and other crops in the summer and fall. It is cheaper for many farmers to hire a company to harvest their crops instead of buying and maintaining the equipment themselves. My point is that employers are more like harvesters than job creators. The harvesters don't work unless something needs reaping, and likewise most companies do not hire unless there is money to be made. Gratitude for having been offered a job tends to obscure this reality. The expectation of reciprocal loyalty over the past two decades has pretty much evaporated. The reality has always been that employers don't hire people unless there is money on the table or in the field, and it seems exceptionally naïve to have ever thought otherwise.
More often than not, political usage of the term job creator is deceptive. The implication in pro-business political ads is that if we vote for a candidate who is friendly to the job creators, then there will be more jobs. Maybe, maybe not. In a nutshell, no demand, no customers, no jobs. But it doesn't stop here. If the candidate is too friendly with the so-called job creators, then the jobs are not likely to pay a living wage because the employers will write all of the rules and laws.    
Now there are companies that innovate and offer new products, and in the process create their own demand. In effect, they do create jobs. But for the most part, the nation's big corporate employers are analogous to crop harvesters. When possible they ramp up to harvest and cash in. There is nothing wrong with this, but keeping this reality in political perspective is critical to the well-being of those who work for a living and vote.
Stimulating the economy is like siphoning gas: if it's not done with enough force, it won't flow with enough pressure to keep going. Austerity won't get you far enough down the road to reach a gas station, and the people promising to create jobs without a flowing economy are talking through their hats. No demand, no flow, nothing to reap, no jobs. This is not rocket science; it's not even a mysterious process when you stop drinking the political Kool-Aid. Put the ideological rhetoric in perspective and admit that a just society is a worthy goal and that working people count as much as Wall Street executives.
Gratitude toward employers during the past half-century has been so forceful and overwhelming that the right of an entrepreneur to exploit workers with exceptionally low wages and degrading working conditions has traditionally gotten a free pass. They act as if they have a divine right to do this because, after all, they are job creators. It's long past time to think through the mythology and the glorious rights of employers. If a task is worth doing and a job needs to be created, then it is worth a living wage. If not, let the entrepreneurs or executives do it themselves.
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