Thursday, January 17, 2013

Meritocracy in Action, Episode 5487

Yesterday I wrote that "people who make large amounts of money in business or finance often think, and are thought by some, to know how the government should be run, or even just the economy.  Aside from the huge business and fiscal disasters over which such people have presided, their public statements since the re-election of Barack Obama should have disabused most people that they're not even qualified to decide their own salaries: they routinely think they're worth a lot more than they are."

New examples keep turning up.  The other day, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey made headlines when he claimed that the Affordable Care Act was "like fascism," marking himself out as a blustering fool.  So of course he quickly attempted to rewrite the record, digging himself in even deeper, as public figures from Todd Akin to Barack Obama usually do when they try to make it all better.

Mackey conceded that the word "fascist" wasn't the most felicitous choice: "it's got so much baggage attached to it ... Of course, I was just using the standard dictionary definition."  It's hard to see how the ACA fits with the dictionary definition of fascism; maybe Mackey took "Obamacare" literally and thought that Obama just wrote the law himself and signed it without going through Congress?  There are all kinds of objections that have been made by rational people to the ACA, but it is not an example of a strong autocratic government led by a dictatorial leader, etc.
"We no longer have free-enterprise capitalism in health care," he said. "The government is directing it. So we need a new word for it."

Mackey defined it later on HuffPost Live. "I think I'm going to use the phrase government-controlled health care. That's where we're evolving to right now," he said.
 Of course this is raving, pure and simple.  Arguably we haven't had "free-enterprise capitalism" in health care since the insurance companies took it over a few decades ago.  Almost no doctors are independent small-business owners anymore, as many were when I was a kid; most now work for the HMOs.  Corporate capitalism is not free-enterprise capitalism, and the American health care system is not 'directed' by the government, it's directed by giant corporate entities.  Which, as been pointed out at tiresome length in the past few years, is why our health care system is so wasteful, inefficient, and overpriced, with poorer outcomes than other industrialized nations.

The very limited regulation of the insurance companies mandated by the ACA isn't "government-controlled healthcare", anymore than food inspection is "government-controlled food production."  If you're going to talk about government 'direction' of health care in the US, you could talk about state licensing of medical practitioners, or federal oversight of drug safety, or Medicare.  I think most Americans would agree that if Medicare is fascism, fascism isn't so bad after all, and we could use a good deal more of it.

Of course our neighbor to the north has what Mackey would probably also call "government-controlled healthcare", but few would call Canada fascist because of it.  England's National Health Service goes even further in that direction, but again, it isn't fascist.  (Mackey previously compared the ACA to socialism in a 2009 Wall Street Journal op-ed, according to the HuffPost article I've linked here.  But you can't blame a man for evolving; he was so much younger and less mature then.)  Most developed countries have government involvement in the health care system to keep costs down and manage outcomes, for that matter.  Our corporate-controlled system is the main reason why Americans' health is so much worse than citizens of other First World countries.  And don't forget, President Obama and his core supporters find it hilarious or outrageous that anyone should think Canada's system might be a good example for us.

Richard Dawkins has railed against clergy and theologians being allowed to participate in public discussions.  They couldn't be any worse, and often aren't, than our corporate elites.  Which doesn't mean I want business types to be silenced; better they should be allowed to remind us, as often as necessary, how dumb they really are.