June 27, 2013 § 17 Comments
Not long after $AVED was released, and shortly after I’d been interviewed on New Hampshire Public Radio, I received an email. The email was from a fellow who’d heard the interview, in which I’d gone into some detail regarding Erik’s and my family’s finances. He was perfectly polite, but his primary reason for contacting me was to point out, in no uncertain terms, that Erik and my family survive only at the behest of hardworking folks like himself, whose tax dollars are essential to the delivery of services upon which my friend, my loved ones, and myself depend.
In other words, that we are basically free loaders.
Of course, this issue is hugely relevant to the discussion of health care. As Tonya noted in yesterday’s comments “our family gets questioned about this often – how dare we choose to live in the way we do and have others pay for our healthcare…”
Let me begin by saying that my family does rely on subsidized health care for our infrequent visits to practitioners who even accept insurance in the first place. Historically, the majority of our health care has been conducted outside the meme of insurance, but there have been occasions – such as the time I thought it might be good fun to depart my (long ago sold) motorcycle at speed – upon which we have been dependent on and grateful for the mainstream medical community.
Let me also say that I have complete empathy for those who feel bitter and exploited by folks like myself and Erik who have chosen a life path that is unlikely to result in the sort of financial remuneration that allows for the purchase of health insurance on the free market. It is a bitterness that is stoked and fanned from almost every corner of our culture, and one can hardly blame them from having become infected by it.
But while I have empathy for this view, I cannot help but point out that it is generally blind to the systemic arrangements which quietly (and not-so-quietly) define what our society values. It is blind to the truth that the very reason so many in our nation must depend on government for essential goods and services is precisely because we have commodified these goods and services. And in the process, we have heavily subsidized the commodity providers of these goods and services, tilting the regulatory and rule making scales in ways that enable these providers to stash billions upon billions of dollars in tax-sheltered off-shore accounts, even as they suck the true wealth of natural and human resources out of our nation’s towns and communities.
I happen to believe that health care should be a basic human right, and no more so than in a society where so many aspects of the fundamental building blocks of good health – clean air, clean water, clean soil, clean food – have been taken from us by the very same industries that are so heavily favored by tax and regulatory law. The tragic irony is that the very arrangements that are making it increasingly difficult for working class families to afford health care without subsidization are the very same arrangements that are forcing them to become more and more dependent on the health care system in the first place.
Furthermore, I happen to believe that people contribute to society in ways that are far more profound and affecting that mere dollars. I’m not terribly comfortable trumpeting my own non-dollar-denominated contributions to my community and society at large, but I am very comfortable speaking of Erik’s. And what I have seen is that Erik’s impact on the children he works with is overwhelmingly positive. Indeed, since the book came out, I have received emails from parents who feel incredibly grateful that Erik has been a part of their children’s lives.
I believe this is what Erik is called to do, and I know that the world is a better place for his doing it. I am struck by the moneyed economic arrangements that define his value to society as being less than $10,000 per year, while someone who trades in complex financial instruments, or markets the sort of superfluous consumer gadgetry that continues to erode our relationships to one another and the natural world, all the while benefiting from the regulatory and tax codes that heavily subsidize their chosen professions, is able to command more than enough income to pay for the basic facets of their well-being on the commodity market.
So yeah, while I have empathy for the view represented by the email I received and the comments Tonya gets, and I feel badly that we inhabit an economy where people are compelled to feel so ungenerous, I am entirely unapologetic regarding my family’s dependence on subsidies to afford health care. Furthermore, I am struck by the fact that both conditions – that sense of bitterness and stinginess, and the broader societal and economic arrangements that compel so many of us rely on subsidized health care – arise from precisely the same place. They are both the result of our society having become afflicted by the mentality of money. And that, my friends, is the affliction that is truly making us sick.