Tuesday, July 26, 2011

How I Solved The Debt Crisis And Made Friends With All Americans.

Well, I might not be quite as great as the headline suggests but to me the problem is very clear, and when you get clarity on what the problem actually is, then solutions follow quite closely behind.

In one sense the problem is that a crazy person from Iowa, serving the State Of Minnesota in the US Congress, is far more dangerous to me personally here in my small town in rural Western Australia than any one of the plethora of terrorist or militant 'evils' the media is so full of 24/7 these days; holding hostage, as she effectively does, any prospect of reconciliation with rationality between the parties and houses that govern the US.  But that's really my problem, and is more of a symptom than the real issue anyway.  Deleting Bachmann would not delete the Tea Party or cleanse the collective mind of far-Right politics in the US of the "NO revenue raises" mindset currently seemingly scribed in a stone not of This World, impervious to reason and shielded in layers of irrational, fear-based propagandism.  No, that's not the problem.

The problem is that this massive debt exists, and - given the assumption that the world continues to uphold the collective illusion of money and a global economy - that the US has really no time left before the consequences of owning an unpayable debt cause the sky to fall not just for the US, but in unpredictable ways right around the world.  Such is the power of this mass delusion we call the economy.

The cause of the debt is really plain to see.  Scrape away all the foofaraw that various sides have thrown about in their attempts to cut spending here and tax the rich there - they don't really point to the heart of the issue.  The debt has been largely financing two things - a pair of ridiculously expensive and unproductive wars and public health costs that have spiralled out of control.  Alright, we need to drill just a little deeper.  Let's start with war.

I've riffed on this theme and variations before, but to summarise, the problem is not that the US went to war per se, it's that it ignored the cardinal rules of being a warmongering power - that war is diplomacy by 'other means' and that you quite simply have to get value for money.  And the US certainly has not.  I think this is largely due to a fundamental disconnect not just in the G.W. Bush administration which kicked the whole catastrophe into gear but in the nomos of the American public psyche.  Dubya's excesses were really just a fetid suppuration, an outward manifestation of the illness that seems to eventually afflict all such empires;  incongruity of word and deed.    In simple terms, the belief has developed that you can export democracy.  That niceness can be imposed.  And that by so doing people will be beholden to you and cause you to be showered with gratitude and gold.  But this is just plain wrong.  Societies evolve, and adapt, according to responses to changing stimuli in the environment, this is basic Ecology 101, and anyone who thinks it doesn't apply to us humans needs to look at the evidence again.  Once the idea got around that democracy, or 'American values' as it's sometimes called, were just the ticket for the poor, the oppressed......everyone, in fact, then 'freeing' various peoples became a PC thing to do.  The Right Thing.  Even more worthy when a foreign power could be said to be in some ways 'against' you and also an oppressor of its people.

Wrong.  War is done to advance your aims and there are some fundamental principles to doing it successfully.  None of which have been applied in Iraq or Afghanistan (or indeed anywhere the US military has set its sights since WW2).  War goes like this: decide what the objectives are.  They must be material, tangible, explicable.  Ideas cannot be outcomes, nor can behaviours.  Thus, outcomes might be for example 'control and occupy the land' or 'entirely disarm the enemy' or preferably, 'complete subjugation' as that is the only way to be really sure.  You can't just occupy a place and have the locals be all loving, unless you then piss off immediately and leave everyone substantially better off and able to fend for themselves.  And there's never been a cost-effective way to do that.  Ever.  In all of history.  Ever.

So let's look at how this part of the problem might have been averted.  (insert wibbly lines here to denote travelling back in time).  OK.  Around the turn of the millennium the Powers That Be in the US want to get some better strategic hegemony in the Middle East.  They look for an excuse....WRONG. This is where you have to step up and be honest.  Either be a player or don't.  As soon as you fudge the issue with all this UN stuff, this 'peace' and 'democracy' and 'freedom' stuff then you are going to do war very badly.  It is extremely expensive for example to avoid civilian casualties.  Ask any successful tinpot dictator how they do it.  War is dead easy.  But you have to have the balls to be honest and say "we are going to invade Iraq because it serves American interests to do so".  End of resoning.  Do it, and do it hard.  Once you're in, and occupying, quash any local insurgency with ruthless force, at the same time as making Iraq a far better place to live in than it was before you got there.  The Romans knew this.  10 years and they're yours.  But you have to occupy it as an overlord, overtly, and with might.  No pretty peace-and-love-and-freedom-for-all frills.  No pretending that the Iraqis have equal rights.  They don't, because you have all the guns.

This is the way it has always been, and frankly, when war is done honestly in this way, there tends to be far less killing, and far better outcomes for everyone involved.  Nowhere near as good a set of outcomes as if war had never occurred of course.  Which is the heart of my point.

The US ought never to have gotten itself militarily involved there, because society was evolving very nicely into a good and caring place to be.  Much of it still is.  But now the evolutionary pressures on those who would use love, who would be compassionate, who can tolerate difference, who use violence only as a true last resort against an actual invader, and not as 'diplomacy by other means'.  Which brings me to healthcare.

Why, for goodness' sake, do prescription drugs cost between 4 and 20 times as much in the US than in Australia, as sold by the very same companies?  And this is absent any benefits schemes, I'm talking about the pharmaceutical company's take.  They sell here in Oz, so they clearly make a profit.  Why does healthcare cost on average come to over three times the cost in the US compared to Australia, with far worse average health outcomes - and yet there is this stubborn belief in many quarters that the US has the best healthcare in the world? And just by the way, the Australian system, despite all its relative greatness, is itself fraught with inequities, inadequacies, fraud, folly and foible.  Which just makes the picture worse.

Again, it's this incongruity between word and deed.  The US does not really know which way it's going to go with this, and as long as there are those powerful voices, and a gullible and willing choir to praise them, chorusing that 'the market is the best and most efficient way to deliver services' and all the almost-meaningless 'small government' chanting mantras are continually trotted out as some kind of God-given prescription for societal health despite all evidence to the contrary, whilst there exists an actual government-funded set of programs that work by paying insurers and for-profit corporations on behalf of consumers, then...........there's a fundamental disconnect there.

The heart of the disconnect is this notion that private enterprise is always better than government at doing things.  It is certainly true that in competitive games, like wealth creation, that businesses often come out on top, due to their not also having to run a country.  Interestingly though, successful businesses get larger and more successful by aping what governments do - controlling the space in which they operate and limiting the influence of others. But in any case provision of healthcare and competitive behaviour are not ideas I think work well together to create great health outcomes.

You could point to any other of several things that have caused this great debt; from the decreasing revenue side as the rich have a lower tax rate than ever before (which is supposed to be a stimulus to job growth, isn't it?) to all manner of government spending and bureaucracy that has accreted like coral over the years, but at rock bottom these two things - the wars and the healthcare issue - are at once the big-ticket items and iconic of the social and zeitgeistian ills that have brought it all to a head.

Looking then at the causes, what are the cures?  Well, you get congruent.  Go one way or another.  Go to war properly as an aggressive empire builder prepared to be honest that war kills and you're prepared to disadvantage others in order to further your own aims, or stay the hell out of other people's countries.  And with healthcare either buy properly into the capitalist ideology that people need to be free from government intervention and allow the cull of the poor and less-competitive members from society as they fail to get healthcare and die of otherwise preventable or curable causes, or - nationalise healthcare properly, eliminating the insurance cartels (they can stay as providers of nice extras like we do here, and they still thrive) and placing a cap on the costs that government will pay for given services and goods whilst taxing the wealthier at a higher rate than the poor to cover this.  This makes for a hybrid user pays/redistributive system.  Modern evidence demonstrates clearly that more egalitarian societies have better health outcomes anyway.  Modern evidence shows clearly that failing to adequately tax the very wealthy leads exactly to the sort of situations we have where corporations drive the agendas behind war and healthcare and lead nations into disaster.

Or at least, this is what I think.

How to get there from here?  Balls, at this point.  Perhaps Obama is doing just this, being prepared to play chicken and not swerve, to make the country take a bitter pill (and give the rest of us a belting while he's at it) for the long term gain.  But it's got to be more fundamental a shift than that.  Studies show that Americans think society has become more atomized, less caring, that they feel more cut off from community and friendship and family circles, that people are less caring - except for themselves.  Get a focus group together and people are amazed at how much they all want the same things in life, the same feelings, the same connectedness.  It's just that they don't trust others to be wanting that, or being that.  Consumer life will do that to you.  It will make you competitive.  It will make you fearful of anothers' competitive advantage, be that an illegal immigrant taking work Americans are too proud to do anyway or the belief that a rogue state really is trying to destroy you and you have to take them out first.  It makes you believe that you'd probably better stick with might, rather than go with trust and love.

I'm seeing some change though.  Aren't you?  Now, my American friends, if only you can get the government to listen, without blaming them or getting all dissy on 'Washington' or the Reps or the Dems......just get them to listen to what you want them to do.  And listen to the humility and softness that is growing in the hearts of each of you as your nation finally outgrows it adolescence, as it leaves its need to be The Greatest behind, as it enters a phase of maturity, of self-care....you all feel it, I know.  Trust.

Never mind God Bless America.  You bless it.  Go on.  Please.

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