Friday, July 29, 2005

Hooray for Big Guvmint

Rick Perlstein has written a piece advocating that Democrats of all stripes come out for universal health care, noting that - duh - it had the advantage of already being supported (in theory) by the American public.
It is the duty of every generation of Democrats to produce new geese to lay 70 years of golden eggs. It is the only way our party has grown—as Bill Kristol puts it, by reviving the reputation of the Democrats as the generous protector of middle-class interests. They know they're screwed if we're credible in our pledge to deliver new kinds of power to ordinary people in their every day lives.

Democratic congressmen can do that, for example, by making a credible collective pledge that if you vote Democrat enough you will never pay another medical bill as long as you live. You really think people wouldn't stop voting Republican then?...

Remember when Dick Morris used to tell President Clinton that he couldn't afford not to be on the side of any issue supported by 60 percent of Americans? Paul Krugman reported a poll that 72 percent of Americans favor "government-guaranteed health insurance for all."
Ah, serendipity. I just finished reading Linda McQuaig's book The Wealthy Banker's Wife, written in the early 1990s and still depressingly relevant. Interestingly, she makes the same point as Perlstein: Progressives need to fight for broad, universal social programs. There are a number of good reasons for this. First is the moral one - government should help everyone. Second is the political one - universal programs (like Social Security in the US, or Medicare in Canada) are far more difficult to kill than targeted ones, like welfare. Third, and finally, is the financial one - universal programs, being easier to maintain, actually do more good for less money than targeted plans.

Perlstein talks about health care, and I'm hugely in favour of the US adopting a universal system, if only to save Canada's health care system from increasing American predation. But it's worth noting that the universalist method is, well, universal. If the government can afford it (and we can, easily) why not provide free post-secondary education to everyone? As our economy becomes increasingly knowledge-based and professional, we can't afford to restrict access to necessary education. Seeing as the government in Canada already spends a lot of money to guarantee for-profit student loans, it would even makes a certain amount of sense financially - though as I noted above, that's the least of our concerns.

Of course, the mother of all universal programs is the idea of a guaranteed annual income - effectively, the government would either top-up your paycheck or send the money to you. Years ago the National Post reported that the Liberals were considering this as a new program to solidify Liberal rule for a generation - but then I never saw another story on it again. Whether it has a chance in hell is debatable, but the social and economic benefits of higher consumption and less poverty are hard to argue. Bizarrely, it's not just socialists who'd like to see a guaranteed income scheme - Milton Friedman has also advocated a similar scheme. Being in agreement with Friedman leaves me with the feeling that my eyes should be bleeding.

So I say bring on the heavy hand of government! I was never wedded to my work ethic in the first place.

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