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Sunday, November 29, 2009
Public Policy ...

David Brooks had a good column on health care reform the other day (NY Times, Tuesday Nov. 24). He decided to get above all of the details and look at the question of “values”, i.e. where the country is going with this monumental legislation. Good one, Mr. Brooks!

I can’t say it better than Brooks, so I’m going to quote him here:

“Reform would make us a more decent society, but also a less vibrant one. It would ease the anxiety of millions at the cost of future growth. It would heal a wound in the social fabric while piling another expensive and untouchable promise on top of the many such promises we’ve already made. America would be a less youthful, ragged and unforgiving nation, and a more middle-aged, civilized and sedate one.”

So, quo vadimus (Latin for “where are we going”). If, as seems likely, an extensive and expensive health care reform bill is signed by President Obama early next year, nothing much would change at first. The bill will take 5 or 6 years to fully kick in. But by 2015 or so, more people will be receiving more health care in America at a very high cost. Mr. Brooks concludes, and I agree, that those costs are unlikely to be contained, and will require higher and higher taxes over the next 10 years.

As such, America will become more like western Europe, with a lot of human services, a lot of taxes, and tepid levels of economic growth and opportunity. We will have passed the “cowboy capitalism” torch (to mix metaphors) on to China. China will become the world’s primary source of economic growth and innovation (given that they will not be expanding their social support for the billions of peasants any time soon). The Chinese will be able to afford a bigger military force that can project itself globally, and will eventually gain “super-power” status like the USA has and the Soviet Union once had.

Will that be bad for America? Probably not in the short-run, not even in the middle-run (say the next 20 years). America will still have a huge economy, and its people will still be pretty well off. Hopefully, the huge level of economic inequality found presently in the USA will reverse itself. There won’t be as many new billionaires, but the poor won’t be as poor either. The middle class will generally maintain their standard of living, but it won’t be trending upward as it did in the 1980s and 1990s. Things will bounce around, with good times and bad times. But there will be more of a “floor” for those families that encounter misfortune. That will be nice.

Over the longer run, say the next 50 years – well, things get more uncertain. Empires that stop growing usually implode after a spell. But sometimes they manage to break their fall and land on their feet, as with Great Britain and Ottoman Turkey. Others have a hard time maintaining previous living standards for their populations, such as with Russia and the other former Soviet countries. And once in a blue moon, an old Empire collapses taking everyone in its wake down with it – the Western Roman Empire of the 5th Century being the prime example. Will the American economic and military empire eventually implode? And if so, when? And what will be the long-term consequences?

I won’t be around to find out how things play out. For now, given that I’m getting older, it’s nice that there will be a “kinder and gentler” support network here in the USA. As to the world that today’s toddlers will live to see – one way or another, it will be more like western Europe. The question is, will it be like today’s relatively quaint and comfortable Europe, or will it be the Europe of the 7th Century, with isolated villages encountering plagues and waring fiefdoms, few schools, and a strong, dogmatic religious network regulating most phases of life? (Or something in-between, like Russia today?)

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:38 am      
 
 


  1. Jim,
    I have to confess I have mixed feelings about David Brooks and his ideas. I can't quite figure out what he's trying to say in his article. He emphasizes that the whole health care things is about VALUES!

    But he seems to sit on a fence regarding which values should be the "important" ones. Are the "important" values the ones that make nations wealthier, civilized, secure–in short make the rich richer? OR are the values the ones that "direct resources to the vulnerable and the elderly", "extend coverage to the uninsured", allow health care providers to "provide quality care at lower cost"–in short help the poor, the vulnerable?

    Maybe he's simply stating: Take your choice. But then he states that the "bottom line is that we face a brutal choice." Let's see: Helping the rich get richer? Helping the poor have decent health care? Oh, dear! a BRUTAL choice!

    I ask what's wrong with that picture?

    As regards your comments on the USA reversing its present "economic inequality": I must say I'm particularly bothered because I really wonder if economic inequality will be reversed. I tend to think that the USA may end up like some of the Central and South American nations–a 1 or 2 percent group of the very rich with the rest of the nation being poor peasants.

    I personally would like to see the USA take a position for the "vulnerable" of our society.

    Then too, perhaps instead of the nation becoming "old" it may "mature." There is a very great deal to be said for maturity. With maturity one gets a different perspective one did not/could not have when one was young. That perspective is a very good thing.

    As I see it, the boomers who at one time were saying "don't trust anyone over 30" (I was in the "over 30" group at the time) are now well over 30 and often don't quite know what to do with being "over 30." Hence: "40 is the new 30", etc., ad nauseum.

    I say instead of worrying that the sky is going to fall, why not work toward the nation "growing up"–maturing. Consider that the nation itself may in matuing will grow "rich" in the learning that comes with maturity.

    As I think about it: How about the nation as an "eternal student"–and I mean that in the most positive and constructive meaning, as you yourself use the term.

    I like that idea: The nation as an "eternal student" growing rich in depth of knowledge and maturity. The nation could take a tip from you.
    MCS

    Comment by MCS — November 30, 2009 @ 2:42 pm

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