The Pressure Group Plan

January 17th, 2010

By Brianna Aubin

In Ayn Rand’s We the Living, one of the ways in which Rand points out that health care in Communist countries is really free only in theory is when she details the desperate search of her main characters Kira and Leo for help with Leo’s incipient tuberculosis:

In the first State hospital [Kira] visited, the official in charge told her, “A place in a sanatorium in the Crimea? He’s not a member of the Party? And he’s not a member of a Trade Union? And he’s not a State employee? You’re joking, citizen.”

I always thought it was ironic that more than one of the publishing companies that rejected We the Living for publication in the 1930s stated in their rejection letters that, “The author does not understand socialism.” Well, unfortunately for us, Ayn Rand understood socialism just fine. It’s the American people who are suddenly getting a quick and dirty lesson in the details of how those vicious practical considerations don’t magically disappear when systems start to go socialist, they just change from how much money you can come up with to what sort of pull you can exert.

For example, just look at the stunts that are being pulled to get the health care reform deal through Congress.  Not content with blatantly buying votes through the Louisiana Purchase or the Cornhusker Kickback, Obama and the Democratic majority have now made a deal with the unions that although the Cadillac tax on high-end health care plans will go into effect for the general populace immediately, it will not be exacted on the unions until 2018. Or in other words:

You don’t want to pay lots of money for quality health care? And you’re not a resident of the states of Nebraska or Louisiana? And you’re not a member of a union? And you’re not a member of Congress? You’re joking, citizen.

In case you’re curious why I threw in that last, do remember that members of Congress get wonderful health care plans, courtesy of the federal taxpayer. Whether those health care plans will fall into the appropriate tax bracket is another question altogether. Also up in the air is whether or not Andy Stern and SEIU will manage to use the “persuasion of power” in the next eight years in order to make the unions’ temporary exemption from the Cadillac tax permanent, to the permanent detriment of the poor schmucks not lucky enough to belong to a similarly privileged pressure group.

Of course, an even more fundamental issue is whether a so-called “Cadillac tax” is really a fair thing to do to anyone.  Even putting aside the fact that it is a quite blatant and pointless punishment of success, it will certainly break Obama’s promise not to tax anyone making under $250,000.  And I suppose that one could argue that this union exemption is an attempt by Obama to get around that accusation.  But this exemption is a special favor so obvious that it ranks as an incredible stunt even for Obama, who has never been shy about his support of and work with both the unions and other political pressure groups (cough *ACORN* cough).  As for what those of us who don’t belong to a favored pressure group are supposed to do about it … better start scrounging for spare change while you can.  With the numbers this plan is talking about, you’re going to have to be at it a while.

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6 Responses to “The Pressure Group Plan”

  1. d |

    It’s like we aren’t paying huge,I mean huge, prices for insurance now. What’s the difference? I can’t afford insurance without a 10,000,to 15,000 deductible,will the health care plan be worse? Who can pay that much cash up front,if you can,maybe you don’t need insurance. We will be turned away from elective surgery,either way. People are dying from things now,that they can’t get coverage for. Most insurance only minimally,or does not, cover cancer,now. Doesn’t sound much different.
    That’s the norm in Washington,all projects buy off someone. Someone or special interest group always profits from their support,not unusual,or unexpected.Thats the way our government works,don’t you think? We are not even close to socialism,yet.I don’t think we ever will be. I really dislike Ayn Rand.

  2. Brianna |

    I do like Rand. But what does that matter, one way or another. The analogy is still valid. Frankly it’s becoming frightening how many Rand analogies are becoming valid.

    As for your counterargument, if I’m reading it right then what you’re saying isn’t that any of the things I’m saying are untrue or invalid points, but rather that everything is so screwed up anyway that even government can’t make it worse? Not only that, but it’s okay to buy people off so long as it’s done “in a good cause” and anyway, that’s just the way the system works. And you say we’re not close to socialism?

    One, don’t underestimate the powers of government to screw things up. Two, the means determine the ends. If this starts with a bunch of bribes, taxes, and buy-offs for special interests, then you can bet that these things will keep happening once the system is actually put into place. Rand understood that. America needs to.

  3. Tom |

    Brianna, it’s always a bit depressing to see how little people understand about the government, the way things really work, and the extent to which issues, real and imagined, are grossly overstated or understated. Your article illustrates that perfectly.

    When people think of government-funded health care, whether it’s a promise for a future takeover of health care or just today’s welfare programs like Medicaid, they’re thinking in terms of “free” goodies from Uncle Sam. The problem is, none of this is free. Those who pay the smallest amount of federal income and other taxes (or none) are the ones who most often soak up the most in “free” benefits. It may seem to them like it’s free because they contribute so little, but someone is paying, and it ripples throughout the economy. One solid step forward would be serious means testing and monitoring of those “on the dole,” and those who could work and pay their own way should be required to do so. There was a time when our people were too proud to live off welfare (meaning their fellow citizens) unless it was absolutely unavoidable, and then only briefly. Unfortunately, those days are long gone.

    We’ve all heard the stories about the British and Canadian health care systems and the bureaucratic problems that characterize them. I’ve also lived in a number of countries with government-run health care that were real nightmares. In all cases, there is also some form of private health care which people have to pay purely out of pocket, and anyone who can afford it does it because the government system is so bad.

    I could tell you a lot of stories about these government health care systems. Here’s one, just briefly.

    I was living and working in Armenia in 1993, not long after the Soviet Union collapsed and it became independent. I was working for the U.S. Agency for International Development in the U.S. Embassy. One of my tasks was to monitor a relatively small, USAID-funded project being carried out by a young American woman who was a Ph.D. candidate at a U.S. university. The project was part of her dissertation research.

    She was studying breast-feeding in Armenia, how women thought about it, how doctors and nurses dealt with it, what alternatives were offered, etc. One of many pretty depressing things she found was that women who had just had babies in state-run hospitals (the only ones available) had to bribe the nurses for virtually everything they needed. Want to nurse your baby? Pay the nurse, or the baby will cry with hunger and the mother will suffer. Want medication? Pay the nurse. Want food and clean bedding? Forget it, unless your relatives will take care of it. Want new, clean hypodermic needles? Someone better bring them to you, then pay the nurse to use them for you only.

    The young woman doing the study came to me one day very depressed. She was afraid she was going to be thrown out of the country. She had been briefing the minister of health about the progress of her project, and she diplomatically touched on some problems. He sneered at her and said something along the lines of, “Yes, but medical care is free in our country!” She lost her cool at that point and blasted him with all the facts of poor treatment and corruption in his free system.

    She didn’t get thrown out (we wouldn’t have let that happen), but she was certainly traumatized. I’d be willing to bet that she’s not a proponent of government-run health care in the U.S. because she’s one of too few of our citizens who knows how bad it can get.

  4. Clarissa |

    The healthcare system in the Soviet Union was free in the same way as all instruments of repression and persecution in a totalitarian state oppress you for free. There was a number of mechanisms built into the healthcare system that were aimed at breaking a human being from the moment of their birth.

    On a different note, the healthcare system in Canada is fantastic. I have no idea why anybody would dream of complaining about it.

  5. Tom |

    Clarissa, the truth is, there are many problems with the Canadian system, just as there are with the U.S. system. Comparisons are difficult. As much as we’re alike, the two countries also have significant differences. There are 10 times as many people in the U.S., the U.S. population is much less homogenous, and there are far greater social and regional complexities in the U.S. Those are also just a few of the reasons that statistical comparisons related to health care must be taken with a grain of salt.

    It’s easy to find leftists who believe that Canadian health care is the next best thing to heaven and right-wingers who believe that Canadians are dying willy-nilly for lack of medical care. Both sides are ill-informed and biased.

    Wikipedia has a very good article comparing the two systems. It illustrates the difficulty and complexity of the comparison.

  6. Brianna |

    “Access to a waiting list is not access to health care,” – Canadian Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin.

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