Monday, August 17, 2009

Town Halls and Socialism: Why Barack Obama's Health Care Solution Is Flawed

In recent news, town hall meetings - concerning President Barak Obama's proposed nationalized health care reform bill - have begun to turn violent as opposing activists clash. One man in St. Louis ended up in the emergency room after being attacked by liberal activists as he handed out flags which read, "Don't tread on me." similar scenarios have begun to play themselves out in several other cities as well.

The Viewpoints

There are two main views at play within this debate, both of which have merit. One view disapproves of the current expense of private health care plans and the machinations of HMO's and insurance providers, who they see (in part, rightly) as the exascerbators of health care costs. Their solution is the nationalization of health care, or at least a competitive nationalized health care option. Adherents of this view would further cite the millions of U.S. citizens who cannot afford health insurance and go into staggering debt from even basic care. This is a real problem that needs to be addressed.

The second view disapproves of a nationalized health care option for several reasons: a) they do not trust that the government has the ability to organize and handle the process of nationalized health care well; b) they see nationalized health care as a stepping-stone for tighter government control over U.S. citizens; c) they do not want to pay more in taxes in order cover other people's treatment (which constitutes a redistribution of wealth - a basic tenant of Socialism).

The first view recognizes a very real problem and offers a possible solution. The second view is reactive against that proposed solution. Given the history of rhetoric and public perception, the latter view, because of its more reactive nature and its lack of a proposed solution, is less likely to win the day. As long as this is framed as a solution vs. reaction argument, the human knee-jerk reaction is to be optimistic about the "solution".

With the latter view's antagonistic nature notwithstanding, the arguments against the President's "solution" to public health care problems are very good ones. We must shy away from any option that increases public dependence on our government and the redistribution of wealth. Therefore it is important that we recast the debate. A different and viable solution needs to be presented. The reason why involves history and philosophy.

America’s Dilemma

The American people are no longer the "bootstrap" generations of World War I and II. We are the "Baby-boomers" (the resulting generation after the war that have enjoyed the ease and prosperity that came from the victories of their parents and grandparents) and the "me generation" (the children of the boomers who have seen their parent's ease and expect the same in life). We are a people who live for entertainment and by the subtle (and not-so-subtle) perspectives that we are fed by entertainment. We expect to be taken care of and are angry when we are not. We are consumers.

As consumers, then, when we see our margin of enjoyment shrink, we are disturbed. This results in sometimes very creative solutions to regain our standard of living. Corporations may "cook the books," falsifying profitability to retain investment and stay afloat (Enron, Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, etc.), individuals may do other things (robbery, theft, fraud, etc.). One of the most interesting, collective, and possibly fatal solutions, however, is Socialism: expropriating and redistributing the wealth built by others.

Socialism as A Philosophy

Socialism is portrayed by some as a viable solution to corporate greed and economic inequality, but in the end it proves itself to be a bankrupt philosophy. The reason Socialism cannot maintain itself is that it preys on, rather than rewards, motivation. Those who make more will give more, whether they want to or not. There is no praise and no reward for giving; no altruism. What you have worked hard to earn is demanded as the right of others. The result is that those individuals who would have been motivated to succeed avoid success instead. When there are no more wealthy people to prey on, Communism arises. In the Communist version of Socialism, no one has more than anyone else (except the government and its administrators - who have proven themselves in almost every instance to be corrupt). Each works for a similar wage, picked for career paths by administrators of the government. The lack of motivation and the spirit-crushing drudgery of life removes not only the vibrancy of community, but the richness of culture. All facets of individualism are largely expunged; distilled into the collective. This is how the United States of America, long the bastion against Communism around the world, may come to resemble what it has so long fought against. (When “diversity” becomes the norm, how is it diverse? The word loses its meaning.)

The question each of us must ask ourselves is this: is the above scenario possible? I believe it is. Czarist Russia fell to the Bolsheviks, China to Mao Tsedong, Cuba to Castro. The scenario has played itself out time and time again. Communism is taking over South and Central America, it has gripped Spain. It can take the United States.

Solutions to The Health Care Problem

Returning to the health care debate, Socialistic (nationalized) health care is a possible solution. And despite its numerous problems, it will win the day if a better solution is not presented to oppose it. As a democracy which has adopted capitalism as its economic philosophy, what should we do instead? My humble suggestion is, as I have presented before, self-regulation.

Health care, while a blessing, is not always essential. A pinch of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Each of us should take responsibility for our choices of nutrition, exercise, and fun - avoiding what is dangerous. We should also take responsibility for our own decisions, including what medical procedures we have done, rather than sue doctors when things don't turn out as we would have liked. In short, stop being a mindless consumer. Beyond this, I think the more viable solution is to enact policies that make it more rewarding for doctors to develop competing private practices rather than teaming together under the HMO conglomerates. Find ways to protect small and medium-sized businesses and give them incentives to compete.

Nationalizing necessities will only make life more difficult for society. Think of a trip to the doctor’s office being like a trip to the DMV or the Human Services Office: long lines, poor treatment, cynical workers, and very long waits to receive results from tests. Would you like insurance that denies your claim because you don’t fall into the correct bracket this month? This is what we can expect from a public option. But we don’t have to embrace this option. Rather, we can push to see private practices and smaller insurance agencies succeed. The more competition there is, the lower the prices and the better the service. The lower the prices and the better the service, the more likely it is that most will be able to afford health coverage and doctor’s fees.

A Christian Response

We who are Christians have a peculiar calling. We are to be in the world but not of it. How can this basic concept be applied to health care problems and solutions? Christians look to God, not government for our ultimate help. If we are serious about that trust, we may endure many sufferings in order to maintain that trust (this may also include inadequate health care in some cases). Doctors and health care are not immoral or evil in general, even if some individuals in the field may be. God made man in his image, which includes the artistry of the mind. We create many wonderful, beautiful, and helpful things – including medicine and physical care. We do not place our trust in medicine, we place our trust in God; but medicine may help. It would be foolish not to accept that help. After all, when we have to pull a stump out of the ground, we use tools and science to do so (pry bars, chains and winches; pivot points and fulcrums). We do not say that because God created us with only hands and trust in him that we cannot use those tools. The same is true with medicine – it is a tool/science for the maintenance of the body.

Can the government be the agent of help to us? Sure – it would be wrong to only assume negative things about the government. Yet our present government (not just this recent iteration of it) represents a largely non-Christian body of policy makers who do not look to Scripture first for their inspiration. These men and women are often given over to their personal desires as are many of their constituents, our neighbors. We cannot implicitly trust our government to do the “right thing” or to honor God in more than a superficial way. The current administration’s view is especially theologically shallow and even possibly antagonistic. President Barack Obama has made himself very clear in several statements that he is both theologically and politically liberal. He has accepted Darwinism (and Social Darwinism?) as his gospel. The consistent Christian cannot implicitly trust Barack Obama’s policies (although I hope Christians would not implicitly trust the policies of any law-maker or religious leader, for that matter).

Socialism, however, which our current president continues to make furtive advancements toward, is a philosophy which is diametrically opposed to Christianity. It looks to a collective humanity for salvation, with the goal of a human utopia. This is the opposite view that Scripture takes. Scripture shows that when humans gather in any number, they tend to join together in sin. They fall into idolatry and encourage each other to do evil acts. Examples of this are: the progeny of Cain (Gen 4:19-24), the people of Noah’s time (Gen 6:5-7), the Tower of Babel (Gen 10:32-11:8), the Sodomites (Gen 13:13; 18:20-19:25), the people of Israel (in the wilderness {Ex 32}, in the land during the period of the judges {Jud 19}, and during the period of the kings {2 Kings 21:8-15}), etc. The prophetic books largely deal with this theme of corporate sin and coming punishment. The New Testament also condemns humanistic socialism (as practiced by Greek Pagans) and presents the view of a theocratic socialism instead – people coming together and voluntarily pooling resources, trusting in God. This last view is not a national solution, but a community one.

If Christians cannot be humanistic Socialists, what should we support instead, seeing as we are in this world and called by God to work in it (which includes politics)? Capitalism, while corruptible, is a system that works with Christianity very well. In fact, Adam Smith, the man credited as the father of modern capitalism, was a Christian and wrote from a Christian perspective. His time was also known as the height of Christendom, before enlightenment philosophy and higher criticism had gutted the Gospel in most of the universities. Smith’s philosophy was based not on selfish greed, but on self-interest. Within his view there is plenty of room for altruistic self-sacrifice, and voluntary dispersing of wealth. In fact, when capitalism works properly and with its Christian heritage, it can do great good for society at large. There have been many examples of Christian men and women who made wealth in business (without trampling on others to do so) and who gave much of that wealth away to help others.

Capitalism is not bankrupt – our society has only lost its moral compass as it has disbelieved the Gospel of Jesus Christ en masse. But Christians can make a big difference in our society by self-regulation – living the Gospel out in all areas of life. Let the Gospel affect what you buy, eat, wear, think, spend money on, what you are entertained by, how you vote, and what health care choices you make. What may seem easy now (the government stepping in and taking over health care) will inevitably lead to servitude later. This is the recurring theme of governmental history. I urge you, Christian man or woman, to avoid nationalized programs and to suggest to your representatives that we should develop policies that allow for more competition. It is not the quick fix, but it will be the better solution for your nation and your faith in the long run.

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