Monday, August 17, 2009

Good People, Good Intentions

Listen children to a story that was written long ago. It was a great land with plentiful food and industrious folk. The people of this land valued their freedom very much. Within the cities peoples of all sorts gathered, and busied themselves amongst the industries of the day, smithing, accounting, assembling goods and such. The land was ripe with opportunity for those that had the will to pursue it. New ideas though flooded from all parts of the world, and gave rise to a profession, that would hold sway like it never had before in history. This profession provided a mere personal service… But the very fate of your life depended on it, or so it seemed. But how much it could move the threads in the tapestry was a sure function that depended not only on the quantity but also quality of service received. The profession was established from ancient times as private and paid, so of course those who had means received the best and brightest attention, while many that had not received none. It was then the great ideals struck the people of the land. Equality, it was said, was written in blood on the very paper s that made them a people. The rich should not be the only ones bending the skeins of fate to their favor; and did not society benefit when all were made better? An egalitarian initiative was sought to provide some of this great service to those less fortunate for even the smallest sum could in many cases accomplish wonders. The majority would still pay their monies for even greater quality but now some sense of egalitarianism was preserved as a public free option was introduced to the less fortunate. Then the peoples governing body saw the costs, and looked at the benefits, while many of modest means struggled to pay for their services, indeed in larger families the cost could become prohibitive. The next big step was seen, make the public option available to all, so that the modest and hard working would no longer be burdened with impossible choice of who had to go without inside of the family. Taxes would be levied, and though almost all would pay some, those with greater means would shoulder the lion share, for was it not true that their wealth was dependent on those below? With almost the same breath of a universal public option, the government spoke the universal requirement. All regardless of inclination or perceived need would be enrolled somewhere upon a plan that met the wise governments minimum standards, lest fines be levied. Soon houses of professionals that catered to the desires of modest of means disappeared, except for a small few that that catered to those whose special beliefs required special attention. The only private professional houses served the very rich, and lo, despite the aim of egalitarianism, they still had premium services offered at a premium price, which for the most part they gladly paid. The rest of the people participated in the public system. At first it was much like being private with nothing between the public customer and professional deciding what the best course might be. But government again looked at cost and inequity, and step by step, rule by rule, top to bottom, and generally in the name of efficiency and greater service, homogenized the system. Now the state would decide what course was best for all. A few generations later, the governments program would be considered a right, and while all had access to it, nearly all agreed that the service was a great disappointment on many levels.
If you have not drawn a clear picture of what I’ve put to words; it is clearly the United States of America, and a brief evolution of public education.
We entered on that path with the concept of a greater benefit for society and a value of egalitarianism echoed in the words that all were created equal. All would be given the chance at greatness then, only they had to stand up and take it. We reasoned that it was not a simple act of forced charity, because with such opportunity and education we would have a better citizen for participation in government, and a more productive person for participation in society. Now we stand with a similar circumstance, with a similar question. It would behoove us to ask ourselves some very difficult questions here. First examine our experience with our last great egalitarian effort. How did it go? How did it start? Where did it end in final form? What were our ultimate accomplishments across the board toward our goals in relation to what we had spent? What did we give up in the process?
We then need to look at our current debate and what our options are. A public option, would we ever expect it to stay “optional” given our experience with education. What of universal care; what is the payment back to society that justifies society’s indiscriminate outlay for a personal service. What level of involvement would we expect our government to have, today, tomorrow, and the next generation? Are we as comfortable with politicians deciding which medicines get purchased and what treatments are approved, as much as we are with them deciding which textbooks are approved, and what material must be taught? Though we might have been created equal it is not long after such we certainly become unique individuals; do we expect a one size fits all system of medicine to fare better than the same did for education? Or is diversity and choice far more valuable then homogenization and egalitarianism in this case?
In the end we must all face the impossible question. The moment when the care we need to survive falls as either, sufficient care does not exist, or is far too expensive. Our current system offers this moment, this question, the only humanity that can be offered. When I am approaching that moment, that horrible moment, it will be I or my family, those greatest impacted, who will answer that question. That is the only humanity that can be offered to death. It is what makes me different than my dog, I get to decide when I’m put down. It sounds horrible, but a horror story like none either Lovecraft or King ever penned is a government man behind desk and papers, with a big red stamp reading unapproved, arbitrarily administering a sentence of death.

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