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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

"America's Best Idea"

While, recuperating, I spend many hours reading and watching the news and commentary, especially on cable T.V., and specifically, relating to the so-called Health Care Debate.

Much of the debate seems to center on the mythical ideological division between Liberals and Conservatives about issues of Big Government versus Free Market Private Enterprise.

The President is having a hard time getting his way because Senate rules and traditions conspire to demand 60 votes (rather that the supposedly democratic majority principle, which would seem to call for no more than 51).

This mundane but annoying historical fact is infuriating to Obama supporters from The Left who took literally the concept that his overwhelming election victory (with coattails of Democrat control of both Houses of Congress) would mean sweeping reforms were possible.
It turns out that Republicans can exert power (mostly the power of veto) by coalescing with a mere handful of Democrats who got elected (or are awaiting election in the next cycle) by constituencies that are far more skeptical of Obama’s call for Change.

These Blue Dog Democrats are carry overs from the Clinton era - barely distinguishable from Republicans on central policy issues, especially when labeled Big Government. Clinton’s declaration in 1994 that "the era of BG was over" is still their mantra.

So I listen all day to this debate about Big Government and whether any national health care system, and especially one with a public option is Socialism or whether the health care companies will be priced out of business by the unfair competition that the government option entails. Ironically, from the other side of their mouths, the same people who argue that government will outcompete private companies also argue that government is too incompetent to be trusted with health care - ignoring the example of Medicare, which works and which they also opposed.

Then the other night I watched a Ken Burns documentary about our National Park System, subtitled: "America’s Best Idea".

It tells the story of how millions of acres of wilderness were preserved from development. Contrary to all logic and history, at the end of the 19th Century, after two hundred years of brutal exploitation and slaughter of billions of animals, the rape of forests, rivers, natural resources of all kinds, and the genocide of the Native Americans who had resided on the land, suddenly it was decided to set aside these certain lands, to keep them free from development, and to protect their pristine existence at any cost.

The people who decided to do this were those who had gorged themselves on the frontier, become wealthy and fat and bloated during the feast. They were of the era of "Manifest Destiny", "rugged individualism", free market Capitalism at its most free. They were the believers in these principles as philosophy, politics, religious theory.

Yet they were persuaded to wipe the blood from their mouths and let some part of their prey live.

The Icon of the era was the young Theodore Roosevelt. A self-made epitome of the "rugged individualist" and proud hunter and killer of all things wild, he was also an intellectual, lover of the West and all its mythologies, and a collector. More importantly, his wealth was Old, not dependent on ravaging the wilderness or pillaging the vanishing frontier. He had the sense of "Noblesse Oblige" that has marked several of the American families that have established themselves as practitioners of a form of philanthropy that considers the "public good."

As president, of course, TR gave his class a good thrashing, busting trusts, pushing through Progressive Era reforms, and insuring permanence to the national parks system. He was the most "Active" of Government activists; he bullied the monied interests of Capital by steamrolling them with Big Stick Government. He was justifiably called "socialist" by his snarling enemies, the J.P. Morgans, who were appalled by his use of their government to whip them.

Sure, the national parks equate to socialism - the government withholding land from private exploitation in order to satisfy the needs of The People and their descendants.

I guess a health care system can’t be defined the same way.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting piece. Generating prosperity is a complex task, and requires the confluence of many factors. Unfortunately, politics rarely cooperates.

    Here’s a thumbnail of what it takes, in my view, for a society to be prosperous:

    1) An inventive / innovative class; people have to want to invent things and processes;

    2) Cross-culturalization, where multiple inventors get together and compare their inventions, and newer \ better inventions are created;

    3) Seaports or trade route intersections;

    4) Business flowing from invention / innovation;

    5) Decent Jobs flowing from business, so people can take care of their families with pride;

    6) A reasonably decent life flowing from more people having jobs; and

    7) Education encouraging the repeat of the process.

    Either some force in society sets this in motion, governs the process, and maintains it, or it does not. If you leave it to chance, you might be on top for a while but you will not be on top indefinitely. But that is a cost of freedom, when you do not direct people what to do with their lives.

    My suspicion is that China will be the next world power because they tell more people what to do, and they are more controlling. More free? Of course not. But more planning, organization, consistency, and coordination take place under their model. We in the U.S. use the “herding cats” model, and there are benefits and costs associated with it. One cost is its mercurial and uneven results, but it is the one that we have chosen.

    We’ve needed more inventors for years, and few in our country have paid attention to that issue. Simply look at the dramatic decrease in U.S. students studying engineering in this country, and the significant decline in basic research.