Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Public Option.

In Grand Junction Colorado yesterday, a student asked Barack Obama if the "public option" wouldn't be unfair competition to insurance companies that need to make a profit. The presumption behind the question is that making a profit from any enterprise is a fundamental right and that the government needs somehow to insure that profit -- and insure that nothing interferes with maximizing that profit.

This is not the first time such questions have come up in our history. There was a time when fire departments were independent and could choose whether or not to put out the fire in your house depending on whether or not they had an agreement with your insurer, if you had one at all.

Sometimes competing departments would engage in disputes over who had the right to fight the fire while buildings burnt to the ground. Sometimes there were arguments between homeowners and competing fire departments as to what the bill would be before one bucket of water was thrown. Sometimes less honest firefighting companies would loot and pillage while they worked. Some were accused of arson.

Then came the public option, and for the most part it works better than anything else. Everyone is covered, the insurance companies are doing fine and whole towns rarely burn to the ground any more. Moreover the argument that forming a municipal fire department to be funded by the public is unfair to the private sector's right to profit or is "socialism" has faded away in the light of experience. It's simply been far more economical and efficient than allowing multiple private companies to compete with each other and able to decide which fires they will fight and which they will not.

Is this an apt analogy? That's the question we need to ask of people like Zach Lahn, the student who questioned the President. Instead of looking for guidance only to our own unexamined credos, or to the plastic wrapped opinions handed out by insurance companies and the politicians they own, we need to look at history for examples. I think there is insight to be derived here. Perhaps he would agree.

Sometimes the public good and the public safety is best served by a public agency rather than multiple agencies who by definition and nature are motivated to ration services and keep prices as high as possible.


  1. Obama didn't have a good answer to this question. I'm not quite sure why we the people need to worry about they the corporation when they don't worry about us. Why is it that so many people think that private businesses that are in business to make money for themselves are better than the rest of the world?. That seems to me to be a key problem our society has got to face, because it is in our face from the banks and Wall Street and the insurance companies and all the companies going out of business. What is the entity that we as a society should hold up? Isn't it the individual? Why do corporations have more power than people? If we could hire lobbyists shouldn't they be helping us. WAIT, we do hire lobbyists--I guess they could be called our politicians. Too bad they no longer work for us but the poor poor corporations.

  2. Yes, Laura - we are slaves to our capitalist ideology, aren't we?

    Fogg - EXCELLENT analogy!! Seriously - it waters the whole damn issue down to its bare bones. You should seriously send it to Obama's script writers - I'm not kidding. A simple scenario that is hard NOT to understand even in the face of willful misunderstanding.

  3. Fogg - I love your analogy for its logic, accuracy and simplicity.
    It gives an easily understood parallel to the public option proposal.
    Of course, the screaming, frothing psuedo-patriots don't want to understand - they are happy rabble rousing in the streets. It's not about what is best for the people of this country but rather how to derail that ______ president. (I have no further desire to fill in the blank anymore).

  4. What? You mean Obama doesn't read The Swash Zone every day? Too busy plotting to sprinkle commie dust on us, no doubt.

    I'm not sure the analogy would convince these people anyway. Their convictions aren't based on anything but tribal identity and greed.

    They're the same people who wanted to put Social Security funds into the Stock Market because any other way was "Socialism" and therefore bad by definition. That would have been a great idea, wouldn't it have? They have no problems with private police, private military, private wars or private prisons and can't see either the obvious conflict of interest there -- why should they see the inherent conflict of interest in people making a profit from keeping your loved ones alive and healthy?

  5. Its true, Captain Fogg. Yours is the best analogy forf the public option ... and the one that points to serious inequities in the current system. We think of healthcare as a fundamental human right, a point lost on those trapped in the quagmire of "disaster capitalism."

    Years ago, I recall, the Blackwater devils were looking for new markets in which to expand and seized upon the idea of selling emergency response insurance to well-healed homeowners in California. The concept, if I recall, was to rush firefighting crews to your house if a wildfire broke out.

    And if budget cutbacks forced municipalities out the firefighting business, what then? Again, a partitioning of the public into 'haves' and have nots' ... all in the name of capitalism.

    The shocking part: I was having this argument with so-called 'liberal' folks who thought Blackwater had a marketable concept. The very idea revolted me ... considering my father was once a first aid volunteer in the tiny village of my childhood.

    My, how values have changed! It makes one wonder who is the conservative and who is the liberal.

  6. Glad you didn't find it sloppy and dishonest. There are many good analogies and metaphors but I hesitate to use many since we get people who will pretend they don't understand in order to ramp up the shouting and disrupt the discussion.

    Like most terms we use to flatter ourselves and chastise others with, conservative and liberal are meaningless and I try to avoid them. The use has become integral to the kinds of arguments I detest and are so dear to the trolls.


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