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Sunday, November 01, 2009
Warfare vs. Health Care: What Do Americans Value?
Posted by Austin Cline
Actions speak louder than words, which means you can tell a lot more about what a person truly values by looking at what they do rather than merely at what they say. We can, though, also learn a lot by looking at a person's contradictions. No one is perfectly consistent, and while some inconsistencies may be due to outright hypocrisy, far more are likely due to blindness — probably a self-defense mechanism to prevent us from truly seeing how our real values may be pulling us in a direction different from what our professed values are.
I think we're seeing this in the contradictions between how people treat America's foreign wars versus how they treat domestic health care. The justifications being offered by conservatives and "moderates" for continuing wars in the Middle East are ignored when it comes to questions about providing domestic health care. So what are the real values which lie behind it all?
Economics of Health Care
The most important and obvious contradiction would have to be attitudes on borrowing and spending. Anyone who treated the critics of health care reform as credible would get the impression that America's economy couldn't possibly handle any extra strain, no matter what sorts of gains might be achieved in systemic efficiency or workers' health and security. Regardless of how moral or reasonable health care reform might be, we can't do it if we can't afford it.
America certainly can't pay for better health care if that might require borrowing more money from China, mortgaging our children's future to foreign bankers and foreign governments. If we did that, we might start to lose control over our own future! Granted, many of our children might not have a future if they don't get adequate health care today, but that's far preferable than falling deeper into debt to the Chinese...
Economics of Warfare
When it comes to putting children's parents into harm's way in foreign wars, though, none of those principles apply. I'm not sure if a single conservative who has objected to health care reform on the basis of economic costs or debt has raised any similar objections to paying for wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. This is especially significant because of the relative costs involved — America's wars in the Middle East don't just cost far more than even pessimistic estimates of health care reform, but they are likely to cost far more than health care reform is feared to cost over the long term.
What this tells us about these conservatives' real values is that they can't just be mere economics. There must be something about making war against foreigners which overrides the extreme costs but which isn't present when it comes to the lower costs of addressing the health needs of Americans. It's difficult, though, for defenders to point to any immediate or direct benefits from waging wars in the Middle East, whereas the direct and immediate benefits of providing basic health care services to Americans are obvious.
Economics of Security
Even if we assume for the sake of argument that wars in the Middle East enhance American security, this only means that reduces the likelihood of Americans dying due to a preventable terrorist attack. Providing more health care to Americans, though, would do the same thing: reduce Americans' likelihood of dying due to preventable illness or injury. So if the goal really is to save American lives, then health care is clearly a legitimate method.
It is reliably estimated that nearly 45,000 Americans die every year because of problems with health insurance coverage. Even if that's high, though, we could safely assume that many thousands, and probably tens of thousands, of Americans could be saved or at least helped to live a bit longer with proper medical care — that's far more every year than have been killed in terrorist attacks against America.
America launched two wars in the Middle East in the wake of a single terrorist attack that killed far fewer Americans than likely die in a couple of months due to inadequate health care, and we haven't even touched on the improvements to basic quality of life as well as overall feelings of personal and familial security that could be achieved through guaranteed health care.
So it's implausible that a willingness to spend more money and go further into debt to pay for foreign wars than would be necessary to pay for domestic health care is largely dependent upon concerns with American security or safety. Those are at best rationalizations, and they aren't even very good rationalizations considering how quickly and easily it is to reveal the lies upon which they are founded.
Economics of Class Warfare
The people who are sagely advising that America can't afford to provide basic health care to most Americans, and especially to the poorest Americans, all have the best possible health care and health insurance available — and often, it's health care provided by public funds. The people who are advising that America must keep borrowing and spending to continue waging wars in the Middle East do not themselves have to worry about ever going abroad to be put in harm's way, nor are they likely to have children and other close relatives who are asked to risk their lives in this way.
I don't think that it's a coincidence that these two groups are almost identical. People who enjoy the best health care available and who don't have to risk their lives in foreign wars have declared it a "luxury" for others to enjoy even basic health care. It's not a "necessity" that large numbers of Americans be protected from preventable deaths due to illness or injury, but it is a necessity that an uncertain but certainly smaller number of Americans be protected from unknown, dubious threats. Both positions weight the cost and suffering towards the poorest Americans while the richest Americans can sit back, enjoy what they have, and be entertained by the others' war exploits.
At least the Roman coliseum was open to everyone, and even the emperors recognized the value of ensuring everyone had bread.
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