Thursday, October 16, 2008

A politics of pragmatism

Some folks ask me, from time to time, whether I'm a conservative or a liberal. After all, I have some "conservative" opinions such as respect for the 2nd Amendment and a liking for the least government we can get away with. But then there's my opinions on things like health care, where I suggest we simply extend Medicare to cover all Americans, not just prune-Americans. "That's socialist!" they shout. "Communist!", they yell. Which of course is as idiotic as calling me a conservative.

So what is my own personal ideology? What I am is a pragmatist. I believe that we should do what works. Our government should be the minimum government needed to protect Americans from those who would harm us and to provide those services that experience has shown government is better at providing, and no more. Government should not, for example, build automobiles. Experience has shown that government building automobiles simply does not work, and furthermore, experience has shown that private enterprise is very efficient and effective at building automobiles. Thus as a pragmatist, I oppose the government building automobiles.

However, when it comes to providing health insurance, experience has shown that government-provided health insurance does work, and works more efficiently and effectively than private insurance. We've had government-provided health insurance in this country for forty years now. It's called MediCare. Your grandpa gets it. You might even qualify for it some day, if your current private health insurer doesn't kill you first because it's cheaper to let you die than to provide the contracted-for medical treatment. It's not "free" -- you have to pay your MediCare fees, and you paid MediCare taxes into the MediCare fund for many decades before you retired -- but it's government-provided, it is much more efficient than private insurance (only 4% of Medicare costs go to administration, as vs. roughly 15% of private insurance fees), and most of the elderly are quite happy with it, though there's always those who will grumble about anything. But despite the occasional grumble, dare suggest that we eliminate Medicare at an AARP convention and you better start running, otherwise a buncha old prunes are gonna whip your stupid a$$ with their walking sticks and walkers.

So: Should I ignore reality simply because it does not comport with right-wing ideology? No. Only stupid people do that. Pragmatic people look at what works and does not work. The private insurance system is in free fall collapse, killing people left and right whenever it sees killing someone as cheaper than providing the contracted care. It no longer works. On the other hand Medicare, from all data we have available to us, works. Looking at other country's medical systems, extending the equivalent of Medicare to all citizens appears to work too. Does this mean that I believe government should provide all medical services? Of course not. While there are places, like in Sweden, where all doctors are government employees and all hospitals are owned by the government, those places don't seem to have any better results than places like Canada where doctors work for themselves and hospitals are either community-owned non-profits or are privately owned. So on the small government vs. pragmatic necessity bit, since there's no pragmatic necessity calling for doctors' offices and hospitals to be government-owned, government should not be involved in those areas.

In short: My ideology is pragmatism -- what works. Because in the long run, that's the only ideology that leads to national survival and national greatness. Ideology which leads to solutions that do not work, such as Bolshevikism and Bushevikism, inevitably lead to national disaster. Experience has shown that we should keep government as small as practical -- but that there are some services that government must provide because the free market does not or is not capable of providing them. From a pragmatic point of view, that contradicts both Bolshevikism and Bushevikism. Bolsheviks do not want small government. Busheviks do not admit that there are some services that government must provide. Bolshevikism has been condemned to the trashcan of history as a failure. Bushevikism is on the way to the same fate. Good riddance to both, I say, as a pragmatic centrist.

-- Badtux the Pragmatic Penguin


  1. The most sensible statement of political belief I've read in a long time. I am in 100% accord.

  2. i am with Kelso
    you are so on the money

    there are some things the govt needs to do because of efficiency, scale or public need

    roads, medical care, disaster recovery.

    there are some things the govt has to stay out of - manufacturing,

    but one thing the political process has to do is stop demonizing govt and the fact that NOT all people will succeed and prosper - and that some people sometime need some help

    great post as always

  3. Hmm, I think not.

    The fact that you consider that every citizen is worthy of health insurance, for instance, puts you squarely in the humanist camp. Definitely not conservative.

  4. @ YOSSI GURVITZ: You are missing Badtux's point: it's about pragmatism, not labels.

    You are also missing the points Paul Krugman has been making in his columns and in his Nobel-Prize Winning work which all in the same vein.

    You are also missing what's happening in the capitalist world outside the USA. National health for all IS a "conservative" idea because of its cost-effectiveness and because a healthy workforce is a more-productive one. It is indeed a humanist idea, too. What's wrong with that?

  5. Kelso - I perfectly understand that. What I'm saying is that Badtux is pragmatic about the means, not the goals. And his goals are certainly liberal.

  6. Ah but my primary goal is to make sure that I have access to health care when I need it. Which happens to require that everybody pay into the health insurance fund, not just me, because health care takes a significant chunk of the national GDP and only a few multi-millionaires could afford to fund, say, a heart transplant, out of their own savings. And if everybody pays into the health insurance fund, naturally everybody is going to expect something in return for it -- i.e., health insurance.

    So it just so happens that humanistic and pragmatic concerns intersect here for the most part. Humanism then calls for making sure that people who have not paid into the insurance fund and never will can get medical care, such as illegal non-citizen day workers and such. But that is a different issue and would require some thought as to how to pay for it, who pays for it, how to provide it, etc., and all of that has little to do with Medicare For All, which is what I'm proposing.

    - Badtux the Pragmatic Humanist Penguin


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