Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Health Care and the Sky Mall

We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Jefferson, Thomas, “American Declaration of Independence” , 1776.



Austin humorist John Kelso had a good time this morning poking fun at a recent Wall Street editorial written by John Mackey, founder of Austin based Whole Foods, a large grocery store chain masquerading as a health food store, lambasting the currently debated health care plan. Among the statements made by the sensitive Mackey was this gem, and it’s crudity does not change the fact that it is true. “A careful reading of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution will not reveal any intrinsic right to health care, food or shelter. This ‘ right’ has never existed in America.”


The Declaration of Independence is not positive law, so it does not matter a tinker’s damn what rights it does or does not convey. It conveys the opinion that England’s American colonies were and ought to be free and independent. The declaration was enforced by a long war. Jefferson’s theft of John Locke’s ideas notwithstanding, the Declaration provides no such thing as a free lunch or a visit to a doctor’s office for only a small co-pay.


The Constitution does not explicitly provide for any of these things, although that is a shadowy matter as the meaning of the constitution shifts dramatically with the shifting  of political winds. For all I know there is a penumbra somewhere in the Bill of Rights which guarantees every American both doses of the swine  flu shot this fall. We will have to wait and see. Mackey, who recently learned a lot about Anti-Trust law while fighting off the government attempts to block his purchase of a chain of real health food stores, in order to try to perpetrate a monopoly on wheat germ, has every right (and this one is in the Constitution)to criticize government intervention in the health care system. It may be that he is correct in his assessment that a government system (the currently proposed one which has the potential of raising the cost of the  benefits supplied by Mackey to those who toil in the  organic spinach aisles of his stores) is a bad idea.


The question is not whether Americans have a “right”  to health care anymore than it was 75 years ago as to whether old folks had a “right” to social security. The question is ,does the majority of the nation want to provide it to them, and at what cost ? For 60 years we have debated this issue. For sixty years, twice in the past 15 or so we have seen tremendous forces unleashed against the concept of universal health care. In all my days of watching legislation ripped apart, I have never seen  anything like the effectiveness of the leaders of the anti-health care coalition in scaring people to death and preserving the status quo. They lose battles, but never lose the war, and if they do lose  this time, it will be because the President of the United States has decided that he would rather be reviled by half the nation and bear  the expense of possibly destroying the rest of his administration than not provide some sort of federally funded health care.


I am a provider of health care. Money I earn (along with my partners) pays for the health care of a number of my employees. It is a significant expense, which  rose 60% this year alone. That gets your attention. You can see the money leaving your pocket, and it will get worse if the current plan is passed. Is that fair ? I don’t know what is fair .Ever look at the Sky Mall magazine while you are on a airplane ? That magazine is how I measure the richness of a country. By examining the fact that there are products on page after page of the magazine that are needed by no one and will only improve the lives of those who spend large amounts of money on them at the most marginal of levels Assuming I owned a swimming pool, how much better off would I really be with a giant floating screen so that I could watch DVD movies from the comfort of the shallow end ? Is it better that I get to do that, or own a pair of glasses which allows my on- airplane viewing pleasure, of the same DVD to appear as if it was on a 60 foot screen, or that  some child should  get treatment from leukemia with my money ? Is it better that I have a home theatre popcorn stand and a pair of goggles that shots videos underwater or that my  money goes to a 65 year old to get a new kidney ?


I am not saying that national health care is a good idea. What I am saying is, Aren’t we really a better people than  those which John Mackey would like us to be, than John Mackey, founder of  the store known locally as “Whole Pay Check “ apparently is ? Can’t we move past what is “guaranteed” in the constitution and think about the most efficient way to provide health care to all, government involvement or  not, not   because it is a “right”, but because it is the right thing to do ? Maybe we are not those “better people”. We certainly have every “right” not to be.


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