Foreign Policy

A Letter to Dennis Prager

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The bigger the Government, the smaller the citizen

Dear Dennis,

I have often listened to your shows and always had the impression that you were no wild man conservative and probably actually believed what you were saying with some degree of thought and reflection. I watched your recent speech relating to the current left-right, Republican-Democrat fight over health care with interest. Your sound bite "the bigger the Government the smaller the citizen" has a nice ring of truth to it.

I fear, however, that you have left out a major player in the equation, sort of like leaving the "M" out of E=MC2. Such an omission would make the equation quite useless. I would put it to you that we are not in the simple world of the individual versus the Government. There are not two parties to the political dynamic but three. And the one you left out is probably the biggest of the players, as the last several years should have surely indicated. That player is the organized vested interests in which I would include the corporations, the unions, as well as the various lobby groups pushing their individual agendas.

One could say the 'bigger the Corporations/lobbies/Unions the smaller the citizen. This would also be true of Government. These organizations are out for their own interests which may or may not be in the national interest or the interest of the individual. With the huge amount of money these bodies have to throw around, they can pervert the work of Government AND via advertising and general dissemination of disinformation via media they control or influence, they can infect the public with ideas to force change upon elected officials.

This is what the Glen Beck inspired march last week looked like. The placards paraded around were not intelligent enough to indicate fact-based citizen concern. I thought it was quite telling when a Fox reporter asked a number of people on camera why they were there and the answer was invariably to "stop our freedoms from being taken away."

Not once did the reporter ask exactly what freedoms were being taken away. If the question had been asked, we would have seen just how confused these people were, as well-meaning as they might have been.

The reality is that we have seen "Capitalist" institutions described as "too big to fail". So who has who by the balls in that equation? I say BOTH the individual AND the Government. Therefore your idea of a two player dynamic is completely out of whack with reality. Because the recent history shows that many "capitalist" institutions did not work for any interests other then their own (with the huge bonuses for the top dogs) the individual got screwed and the Government was forced to step in to save the day as best it could. One can argue whether they did it correctly or made mistakes but NOT to take action would REALLY have seen a march on Washington.

The market has a great value in determining where resources are directed. And greed is a great driver of achievement if harnessed properly and with some degree of integrity and moral responsibility. When the bonuses became so large, so staggeringly large, it is no wonder that moral integrity took a back seat. Those guys were only human, after all.

Meanwhile, the right derides governmental institutions such as the post office as paragons of inefficiency where you wait in line arguing that is what ALL Government run institutions are bound to be like. No mention that the Post Office can pick up a letter from your house and deliver it anywhere in the world for less than 50 cents. That is a bargain if there ever was one! I never hear of the Post Office big wigs making millions of dollars in bonuses each year, or the general staff being paid anything like what is earned in the big corporations that contributed to the current economic collapse we are in the middle of. The point is that surely there are certain activities where we DO NOT want a profit motive to be the driver. The Army, the police, the fire department for instance. Instead of using the post office as an example why not use the fire department and ask the question "what if the health insurance companies ran the fire department?" Would they be obliged to put out all fires to the best of their ability and resources? Or would they try to cut costs and turn a profit by not taking on fires where people had not paid for a fire policy? Would they argue that since you forgot to mention one of the gas or electric appliances in your home, they would not come to put out the fire as your house burned down? You get the picture.

Would you really want a profit motive to be how they ran the fire business? I think not.

Whether you are a believer in big or small government, there is no question that companies supplying life insurance operate on the principle that the business works ONLY if you bring in more money than you have to pay out. Meanwhile the more you bring in and the less you pay out the bigger the bonuses you can make if you are a big boss and the more your shareholders make. Is it any wonder then that you would logically be motivated to 1. Not having people on your books who are likely to need medical treatment, and 2. When they do need it, try to find an out so you don't have to pay? The more successful you are in these two areas, the more profitable is your business.

So we have to ask ourselves -- Is it really in the public interest to have our health in such a system where money is sucked in to deliver a profit to a few individuals who do not actually contribute to health at all but simply run the business by taking in X and giving out X minus as little as they can get away with? I think there is a very good argument to say that the Army, the police, the fire department and the health of our citizens should not be subject to the profit motive. In fact, that is what ALL advanced societies have determined EXCEPT the United States.

Like you, Dennis, I am a great believer in free enterprise and Capitalism but I also know Capitalism has inherent flaws in it just like Socialism has. Many if not most human activities are not well served by a socialist approach. But there are some that would be badly served by the capitalist approach and it should be apparent that health is one of them. I would argue further that the current system in the US is so confused that it serves no one well except the insurance companies and it is so confused as a result that even they are badly run.

I cite a personal experience to make the point. Over a year ago I needed a hip replacement and priced it at a good hospital in France where my mother had had a very successful knee replacement. The price was $7,500. I informed my US insurance company and they told me they would not pay for an operation in France. I then went to Cedars Sinai hospital in Los Angeles where the quote was $75,000. My insurance told me that was fine so I had the operation in the US. In fact the first operation was not successful and I needed to have it done again for the sum total of $150,000. Now how did that make any sense? I would have thought the profit motive would have made them jump at the idea of doing it in France. It seems these insurance institutions are so divorced from reality that even the basic capitalistic instincts are not working. So something is really screwed up here and we ALL pay the price.

It would seem to me that health care is an issue that must be addressed and it is an issue for BOTH the right AND the left and everyone in between. The right seems to be marching unwittingly to the tune of the private insurance companies and their lobbies. The left seems shocked that health care should be so controversial when the vast majority of us would be better off with a better system. Your argument that "big Government means small citizens" may sound good but applying that to all political discourse is the tail wagging the dog. Best case it does not always apply, worst case it is missing an essential part of the equation making it devoid of reality and therefore quite useless.

I watched England sink deeper into the mire when it was assumed without question that "socialism good ' capitalism bad". Margaret Thatcher brought them back to reality and saved them. Now I see the Republicans doing the same thing in the opposite direction. "Capitalism good ' Socialism bad".

If "socialism" means Government involvement when it makes sense for the public good then I hope President Obama will do the same for the US that Margaret Thatcher did for the UK. I would respectfully suggest in future that you will have a lot more credibility as a thinker if you realize that what is true in many or most situations does not mean it is true in all situations. Spotting where capitalism is inappropriate and where Government involvement is (a government we the people elect by the way and can change) is what makes for a great long lasting society that serves its citizens best. By imagining there is only one way makes you blind.


Miles Copeland

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Updated Jan 2, 2019 12:29 PM EST | More details


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