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Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Privatization Of Socialism: The Great Insurance Scam

Upside Down Girl
A larger view of this delightful image can be found at the church of facebook

Socialism and "privatization" (the Holy Grail of Libertarian Capitalism) are typically seen as the disparate bi-polar destinations of economic philosophy. At least this is so in the infantile discourse presented to us by politics and in media, the primary endeavor of these forces being to both represent and shape the countenance of "popular opinion." Regardless of which end of this false spectrum our sympathies lie, most of us tend to give a nod to this manufactured choice in our contemplations and discussions. But given a little time and some careful de-contextualization, perhaps we can can understand the question differently.

Quickly: One is a natural manifestation, and the other is borne of ideology.

Of course, this is another bit of framing that one can reasonably object to - on the grounds that it is another over-simplification of the case, or simply wrong (the ideology of Socialism, the, ahem, "natural" red-in-tooth-and-claw Hobbesian Darwinism of Capitalism... oh, sorry, I suppose I've telegraphed my own opinion with that characterization.) Even if we are in agreement with that framing...

...there is plenty to fight about. An obvious question is: Which (does one hold) is which? Before this, before even we identify whether it is socialism or privatization (I am going to let this the latter term stand in for "capitalism" for the purposes of this essay) that is "natural," there is the question as to whether ideological growth represents an improvement upon the "brutish" natural condition of our world and ourselves, or a dangerous hall-of-mirrors of delusion that repeatedly and faithfully hoists us upon our collective petard (I was going to go on and say "in its actually-quite-imitable, baroque, and colorful Shakespearean way," but I fear I might be telegraphing my position again. Can't have that.)
Ideology vs. Nature?

The Enlightenment unshackled a host of prominent thinkers, but the memory of protean chains weighed heavily upon their ruminations. This condition might have arrived at sharper resolution were it not, somewhat ironically, abetted by a contemporaneous unfettering - the expansion of horizons and possibilities brought on by the discovery and efficient exploitation of resources. We are only now beginning to understood these to have their own hard limits, but for all intents and purposes it, we have been basking in an orgy of "infinite" expansion and possibility for the better part of three centuries or so, the 20th Century having been obviously barking mad about it.

But crises focus the mind, and we are clearly in a time of crisis. As such, I am taking the liberty to posit that issues that have been blurred and confused by well-meaning and quite impressive minds are coming to sharper relief - even among the "great unwashed" who are the ultimate consumers and hence the actors in these hothouse world-views.

One clarification is that, for all of the abundance-worshiping that the left has been guilty of since before The Jetsons and Star Trek graced our imaginations, it is clear that lines are being drawn, and I think I can safely say that the "left" are trending towards placing the imperatives of Nature above the promises, dare I say "false promises," of ideology.

Post-Enlightenment found the left and the right alike embracing the ascendency of the mind in those halcyon years of infinite abundance, the former embracing the intellectualism of science, and crediting our ever-expanding understanding of Nature as proof that we are destined to master and improve upon Her - and to no little mischief, as it turns out. As for the "right," ancient ideas of hierarchy and propriety-of-place enshrined an authoritarian God, this cosmic model being quickly expropriated to place us, the angel-potentates of His creation, between the altitudes of heaven and the bestial Nature. Both views exalt the machinations of the mind - Ideology - as superior to the roilings of mindless matter.

As I said, the rich culture brought upon us by thought liberated from, but adulterated by, more classical world-views, coupled with the illusion of infinite abundance have, "on the ground," often blurred and confused these distinctions between Nature and Ideology, and so we are left to "deeper" and somewhat ridiculous contemplations on the "naturalness" of the ideological approach (science-ever-forward, Dominionist entitlement), or upon the embedded ideology of Nature herself (paganism, God Herself.)

I raise these points only to do away with them for the rest of this discussion. I focus, instead, on a clarification.

Nature Wins

I'm going to have to go with Nature here. In the first place, the progressivism of Science continually reminds us that She is a teacher of infinite depth. Like the severed heads of the mythological Hydra, every question answered births more. That its investigations intimated some impending mastery over Her seems somewhat naive in hindsight.

Secondly, the plasticity and cleverness of the human mind is its own worst enemy. It is baroque, it is mysterious, it is beguiling and it whispers one thousand promises for every concrete answer that Nature serves up. It is a veritable hall-of-mirrors that only grows more complex as it is fed. So, while thought has its utility, I think it is safe to set it aside as a source of wisdom. It processes information, for good or for ill, but it does not provide it.

What checks the crazy fractals of thought from spinning out into the madness of Phadreus' crystallization? Nature does. Hard limits of reality served up to slap-ya-up the side-of-your-head.

We live in a time when limits are being served up in spite of our most earnest hand-clapping. Tinkerbell dies, and as one who is well-acquainted with (and quite fond of) the Hall of Mirrors, I must say that I find Sanity exciting after all these years.

Here's to the Millenium of Sanity.

Socialism is "Natural," Privatization is the Stuff of Fevered Dreams

I say that socialism is "natural," because it is an evolutionary trait of human beings to collectivize our efforts in the satisfaction of pretty much all of our survival needs. If this were not so, creatures faster and stronger than us - Nature red in tooth and claw - would have dispatched us long before we exhibited the breathtaking achievement of making nearly every conceivable place and climate on this variegated Earth a suitable place to live. A place to live in with such a veneer of safety that the majority of us are not even aware of the danger that Nature offers, and instead preoccupy ourselves with the human-on-human deprivations and horrors that have been left free to flourish.

You know, the ideologically-borne stuff.

One specious "lesson" we have garnered from Nature is that somehow survival is pinned on a sort of meritocracy. This is intellectualism-run-amok. We have taken the simple imperative, that life simply wants to live and will do anything to sustain itself, and morphed it into the idea that the superior survive, and the losers die. The truth is that we all take our turn in life, and death. There are no "superior" survivors, there is no meritocracy in Nature.

(Otherwise, we must await the thesis explaining the merits of the common cockroach, an ascendency that clashes deliciously with our conventional notions of virtue. I'm quite sure that this paper has already been written at some point. I'll leave it to the reader to go hunt it down to enjoy the contortions of unintentional humor that no doubt unfold therein.)

Privatization (or capitalism) is a structure built upon the weak foundation of this intellectual misapprehension. Its only possible justification is one found in accepting that some are deserving of resource accumulation and finer living, while others are not. Based upon the worship merit, one more mirror in the hall.

One facet worth mentioning is that socialism is natural is that it simply will not go away. It is in our genetic code, it is the closest thing we have to comprehending the "meaning" of life - few, if any, things bring more satisfaction than knowing you're helping another in the road of life. The only response that the ideological have to this is to - so there! - privatize it.

The Tragic Disaster of Socialism

To the privateers, socialism is a disaster because it disincentivizes individuals from contributing personal effort into the (irony alert!) collective enterprise. Of course, "collective enterprise" is interpreted rather differently than what Nature intended, being all wrapped up in growth and productivity and all (decidedly intellectual ideas). I have bashed this motivational structure before, and likely shall again, but I will for the most part leave it aside here. I'll only point out that the idea of the "good life," as defined by the aspirants of wealth, is probably not exactly in line with what Nature not only "intended," but most likely falls short of its intellectual promise. For all of it, the greatest pleasures stubbornly resist a price tag. Indeed, attempts at accumulating and distributing pleasure invariably suck the life right out of them.

But what of the tragic disasters of socialism, as manifest when it is perversely privatized?

This Brings Us To Insurance

For what is insurance, except a scheme whereby the less-affluent can enjoy similar protections against the vicissitudes of life that the wealthy can summon? Insurance doesn't exist for the wealthy (except insofar as it is leveraged for the continued accumulation of wealth, but let us not drift) - they can afford that doctor. If they smash their cars, they can replace them (and buy off any hapless victims) with far greater ease than those of us with more limited resources.

While modern times are demonstrating a rather shameless drift into glib dismissal of the "underclass" and its woes, historically there has been a hard-learned understanding that allowing an underclass to grow and fester becomes, in the long run, dangerous to the health of the privileged. This is a natural manifestation of our innate socialism as filtered through the perversion of a culture that would countenance unequal distribution of resources.

Another "natural" manifestation is the palliatives that are applied to placate (and mask, to some extent), our socialistic natures. One that fails to do a very good job of masking it is the overt redistribution of wealth that conventional "socialism" effects, and so that is where we find the greatest noise in the debate.

Another more deftly folds in the intellectual pretense of the meritocratic primacy of privatization, and that is insurance.

The Tragic Disaster of Privatized Socialism

One thing that is unquestionably unfettered from decent constraint by the philosophy of the primacy of meritocracy is greed. I happen to think we are all, for the most part, pretty decent at heart, but the pressures of life that come to bear when we structure our lives around meritocracy, coupled with the nearly religiously elevation of greed as some sort of virtue (or at least an inescapable facet of life), has pretty well gagged and blindfolded our "better angels." What else could we expect?

Privatized socialism is a disaster because it strips away the impulses that inform our natural inclination to help each other and paints it with the veneer of the Invisible Hand of self-interest. This world-view not only strips us our own vestment and ownership of our morality, it puts morality in the hands of an actor that is more-than-human and behind the curtain. I cannot simply say "I am good," and behave that way. I am forced to genuflect to a chimera from which "true" morality seemingly emanates.

It makes tin-men of us all.

Even worse, unfettered greed means that incrementally, behind-our-backs, the cost of an insurable service will inevitably escalate. This is why the cost of health care in this country is reaching profoundly absurd levels. The "good" providers of health care simply would not dare to have raised its costs to such levels if they were consistently faced with the limited resources of most of us. The fact that we can "file" a claim that can be met by a large - yes, socialized - institution alleviates such cost-control pressures.

I am not saying here that all, or even most, health care providers are infected with any particular venality, I am simply saying that the upward-pressure exceeds the downward, and hence the rachet upward is, and has been, inevitable.

Socialized Socialism: The Difference

One might be tempted to say that well, yes, privatization (insurance) of socialistic pressures is merely a countervailing option, and that public (government) redistribution is another. This is convenient when one wishes to wrap the argument in diatribes about "freedom" and oppression from the State.

I don't want to get into why it is stupid and self-fulfilling to characterize (or set up) government as "the State" (it is our public face - our only one). The point I want to make is that by adapting an ideological solution (free-market philosophy) on what is quite plainly easy enough to grasp on its own terms, one necessarily invites the multitude of unintended consequences that ultimately enable the degradation of its stated purpose.

Either way, we are "socializing" - coming together and helping each other. The profit motive only muddies the waters. Being explicit about it and doing it through collective effort, with no thought of benefit outside of the service itself, enables the opportunity to more explicity and transparently regulate the true costs of the service.

The useful role that insurance actually plays - the ameliorization of the disparate access to health care - is more simply served by the oversight of non-profit collectivism, with the added benefit of inoculating it from the cost-ratcheting that privatization has, predictably, wrought.

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