Voices from Russia

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Why America Should Have Had the World’s Best Social Contract (Instead of Settling For the Worst)

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I worry about Americans. It seems to me that they just aren’t aware as they should be that they could and should have the world’s best working social contract (with vibrant, robust healthcare, education, income, savings, safety nets, media) instead of settling for the most dysfunctional broken one (after all, even nations like Costa Rica and Rwanda are developing basic public healthcare). Hence, it appears to me that Americans believe in a series of backward myths about themselves, the world, and society. Recited constantly, they keep them in the dark, which is why they settle for the worst.

Myth: Only small countries can have working social contracts 

One of the greatest ironies in the world to me is that the very opposite is true… big countries can have by far better ones. How? Think about insurance, the bigger a pool is, the lower the cost for each member. Now, what does that really mean?

Reality: People in bigger countries can enjoy (way) greater benefits from working social contracts than people in little ones 

A small nation like Denmark or Sweden or even a medium-sized one like France or Britain can’t realise the same economies of scale that a big one like America can… there are only 10 million people, each of whom pays more to insure one another. However, American has 300 million people. Yet, by a long way, American healthcare is the most expensive in the world and delivers the least benefits. Precisely the opposite could and should be true… as there are more Americans to insure one another, it could be the cheapest in the world, with the greatest benefits, by a very long way. However, it requires a true public healthcare institution, like an American Healthcare Service, to make that true. That same principle is true for every component of a social contract, whether education, media, or safety nets… more people share the high fixed costs, so they’re (way) cheaper for a bigger society like America than a small one like Sweden. Then, isn’t it funny that American thought doesn’t ever seem to consider that?

Myth: It’s impossible to build institutions for 300 million people, we wouldn’t know how to manage or run them

LOL. What do you think your local Apple store is? If Apple can do it for gadgets, why can’t we do it for healthcare? Wal-Mart, Google, Amazon, and the government already do it every day without breaking a sweat. We know how to do it in spades.

Reality: Building working public institutions, like an American BBC or NHS, is how to repair broken bonds, renew communities, and rebuild the economy one life and town a time 

Let’s say you’re a poor kid in West Virginia with no income, savings, mobility, opportunity, hope, life. You’ve seen your friends, in despair, with no futures, OD… you’re thinking about turning to drugs, too, but you harbour a great desire to help people like you, to be an abuse counsellor, only you have no idea or way to be one. Your only option is what capitalism can provide, insanely-expensive twelve step “rehab” programs that never address your severe trauma of living through collapse with real psychotherapy, not just “drug abuse counselling”, because that’s more costly than just putting you in a boot camp, so it goes untreated, and you cycle on and off drugs forever.

Now imagine that our AHS was there in your neighbourhood. It would need just such counsellors, right? Voila, supply and demand meet… you might get training for just the job they need… where they don’t right now because there’s a “market failure”, which is to say, a void. That broken town might come back to life. Now fast-forward five years into the future. That AHS needs managers, there you are… suddenly, and you have a career, and all it brought with it, opportunity, mobility, security, optimism, belonging, meaning purpose. How wonderful. Now multiply that by a thousand times, and ten million lives. How beautiful. That’s how a society and economy begins to heal, mature, and grow… when institutions, both public and private, allow lives to flourish.

Myth: Public institutions provide low-quality crap! It’s usually expensive! I don’t want to pay taxes for that… in fact, I don’t want to pay taxes at all! 

Look. You’re going to get taxed either way, by monopolistic corporations or a government, and if you really can’t abide that, if you don’t want, say, water and roads, be my guest and move to Somalia. The question is, which one is a better deal? Let’s consider the BBC. I pay about two hundred bucks a year. What do I get? I get three TV channels and six radio stations. I pay about two hundred bucks a month in the States for a billion channels. Now, here’s the irony that’s often impossible for American to understand… less, in this case, is infinitely more. I click around in the States and rarely find something to watch, I decline porn, cop and surgery shows, it’s all mostly catastrophe vaudeville about the victims of late capitalism. However, I can watch the BBC endlessly, and so do you, maybe you just don’t know it, because its shows are rebranded for Americans, Masterpiece Theatre and so on. For that BBC licence, I get Blue Planet, Civilisation, all those cop and detective shows, the Great Bake-Off, movies, soaps, and so on. Do you see the difference? I pay a tenth of what I do in the States, and I get infinitely higher quality. So much higher quality that most of the shows ripped off by American media come from the Beeb… The Voice, The Bake-Off, etc. The level of quality isn’t just high, it’s beyond what capitalism can give you, whole categories of shows like documentaries by famed academics and writers and artists and wildlife docs like Blue Oceans exist there that can’t in America, all those cute fun Bake-Off style shows you love watching on Netflix, films tackling tough social issues, and so on.

Reality: You’ll save (a lot of) money and have a better life by paying society way less for much higher-quality public goods, instead of trying to buy healthcare, media, education, and safety from capitalism, which it’ll never really provide well to begin with, and only give you at nosebleed high prices 

Now let’s think about it from the BBC’s side. It only needs a fixed amount to produce all that stuff, those three TV and six radio channels. Crucially, that amount doesn’t change depending on how many people are in a society, right? So again, a BBC would be way cheaper in America than it is in Britain, simply because there are more people to pay for it, a hundred bucks a year, not even two hundred. Are you telling me you wouldn’t pay a hundred bucks a year for a BBC, instead of a few thousand to Comcast, now that I’ve explained it to you? (If you want to do both, be my guest… I do.) Here’s the point, not only does a working social contract cost less, the benefits are way greater too, social institutions provide goods to a quality that capitalism is simply unable to even usually dream of.

Myth: We can’t afford a working social contract 

Have you followed me so far? If you have, we’ve learned that a working social contract is:

  • cheaper for a big country
  • a better deal for people than capitalism
  • offers quality that capitalism alone can’t ever really provide
  • the only thing that can repair a broken society, one town and one life at a time

A deficit doesn’t matter much when people are giving up on democracy because they don’t have decent lives of dignity, belonging, and purpose.

Reality: A working social contract isn’t what’s unaffordable, not having one is what’s unaffordable. That’s American decline’s fundamental lesson. 

I want to drive that home to you. Consider our poor West Virginia kid again. He gets addicted. His parents mortgage their home to pay for “rehab”… no AHS, remember? However, because there’s no AHS, too, “rehab” means a twelve-step program… all capitalism can provide … not real psychotherapy that addresses the profound trauma he’s lived through. Therefore, he cycles in and out of this subpar capitalist rehab. His parents are renting a little place now. He’s living on the streets. What was unaffordable for them… a working social contract or the lack of one? Multiply that by a million… what happens to a society? Now… people lose faith in the future, each other, and themselves. They give up and numb the pain away. Therefore, like any traumatised abused soul, they end up believing what’s backwards… what might save them is unaffordable, unattainable, and impossible, so going on this way, in this terrible suffering, is the only option that they have. Thus, democracy falls apart and people turn to authoritarianism… that’s the story of every falling empire, from Rome to the Reich.

How sad. How wrong. There are already millions of stories just like that. Imagine how different all these lives would and could be with a working social contract. America could and should have the world’s best one, as it’s one of the world’s biggest and richest societies. Nevertheless, Americans don’t quite understand that as their intellectuals, leaders, and thinkers have never explained it to them. Irony teaches us tragedy, and the tragedy of ignorance about the most fundamental lesson of all is the irony of American collapse… Americans settled for the worst social contract of all, but they could and should have had the best.

9 March 2018

Umair Haque

Eudamonia

https://eand.co/why-america-could-and-should-have-had-the-worlds-best-social-contract-instead-of-settling-for-the-17a153a39585

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