I was intent on writing a more traditional piece about making New Year’s resolutions to eat better and exercise. But then my daughter told me about a young mother of two small children who has a treatable medical condition, but who has become seriously ill because her health insurance delayed her treatment so long. My daughter had brought this case to my attention a few weeks earlier because the patient, a friend of a friend of hers, in her time of need, was forced to go on-line to ask for money to pay for her treatments—despite having health insurance. I hear some version of this type of story all too often these days.
I am just too disgusted and angry to write the more cheerful post I had originally intended, therefore.
First, let me explain why I am so angry.
It is because this suffering is completely preventable and entirely avoidable, and yet it has become the norm!
A hundred years ago, and at all times prior to that, people with health conditions suffered and died because there were no treatments for their ailments. And life and how we lived related more than anything to scarcity of necessary goods and services—in the case of illness, it was scarcity of effective treatments.
But the situation above is quite different from that. Today, we are withholding readily available treatments from people who need them, and it is not because of scarcity of goods or services, but of money and ideas. In short, we have decided to let people suffer and die because they don’t have a piece of paper (money).
Again, we have decided that it is ok for people to suffer and even die because we don’t give them readily and easily available treatments that could help and save them. I’m not sure what the technical term for that is, but I think it’s killing.
At the same time, congressional Republicans are discussing getting rid of Obamacare and Medicare—without any plausible replacements—a decision that could kill millions of people, including kids and seniors. It is the height of stupidity and evil rolled into one!
So, here is the basic issue.
Money and profits have become more important than human life.
On the first day of ECON 101 (at University of Maryland in 1981) our professor told us that “a dollar is a dollar is a dollar.” What he meant is that money is valuable because we make it so. A dollar has value only because we give it value, and we determine how much that is. Money is just an abstract representation of value. A dollar bill is just a piece of paper without the value we give it.
Further, money is meant to be a mode of exchange. It is meant to help us distribute goods and services more efficiently. The idea was that having money was supposed to make life better and more livable.
But we have elevated money, an abstraction, to an entirely different position in our lives and in society. Money has become a commodity in and of itself, and it has more value than anything else. In fact, the value we give money now trumps all of our other values.
So, not having money today means not having access to the necessities of life. The absence of money means we forego many of the other things we value—adequate food, health, safety, even common sense. In a world where money, a completely abstract concept, has more value than these other things, the world becomes an absurd place where right and wrong no longer means anything. In that world, we allow the absence of money (a piece of paper) to kill.
It is only in this absurdly defined world that we keep people from readily available medical treatments. It is only in that world that companies hoard profits rather than paying adequate wages to their hardworking employees. And it is only in that world that we allow children to go hungry when there is food enough to go around.
In other words, this view of money fosters what is clearly wrong. Money is the new God and the Ten Commandments matter only when there is enough of it.
So, we have enabled an entirely abstract concept, something we could define in any way we want, to cause wide scale suffering, conflict, and death. And it is all unnecessary. It could all be prevented with a new idea.
For instance, how about if we decided that there were certain values that were more important than money and profit, like the sanctity of human life, or the concepts embodied in the Ten Commandments? What if we even measured our success as a society with yardsticks other than purely financial ones? What if we viewed money as something that was supposed to help support our values rather than define them?
We could have a much better and safer, and even more moral world solely by changing the way we view money—a new idea. And then, when a young mother of two becomes ill with a treatable condition, we would treat her.
Happy New Year. Oh, and you should eat better and exercise if for no other reason than you don’t want to have to need this upside down health care system in its present form.