Anarchists and health care reform

Well, I'm back from holiday. Which explains the lack of posts and blogs (but I did manage to get another release of An Anarchist FAQ done). I've posted a new article on the economics of anarchy, based on my speech at the Radical Routes conference earlier this year. Hopefully, it should be in the next Black Flag (out for this year's London Anarchist bookfair where, as usual, we will have a stall -- and I should be doing an AFAQ talk as well).

However, what I have been thinking about a lot lately is anarchism and health care, provoked (needless to say) by the downright insane things going on in America. So here I am, finally blogging about it. Before discussing possible anarchist strategies, I need to make a few points.

First, as this may be read by Americans I should state that I will be using the term "libertarian" in its traditional sense of anti-state socialist rather than the post-1975 bogus sense of free-market capitalist nut. We anarchists have been using the term libertarian since 1858 and we are not going to stop now.

Second, the level of lying by the right is amazing (for example, the whole "death panel" nonsense -- which is particularly bad, given that insurance companies actually do have such things). This, I suggest, is a positive sign in-as-much as it suggests that the right are well aware of the weakness of their case and level of support. That they cannot rationally refute arguments for nationalised health care insurance shows both their intellectual bankruptcy and the awkward fact that health care exposes the myth that the market can provide everything. It must leave the ideologues uneasy that there is such a key human need which shows the benefits of collective action!

If the facts were with them then they would not need to make things up. Like when a newspaper suggested that scientist Steven Hawking had been British and would not have survived in the NHS... A powerful argument, except that Hawking is British, supports the NHS and praises the aid it has given him. This is from the excellent Mock the Week:

The ability of the Right to twist the debate is amazing. Using that scum-bag Tory MEP to protest against nationalised health care, for example, when Obama is not suggesting anything remotely like the NHS (and don't we all know that this eejit expresses what many Tories think in private...). Talking of which, the Tory's over claim to fame is praising Iceland as being (yes, you've guessed it!) an economic miracle, shortly before it collapsed. Which confirms my basic rule of thumb -- as soon as some free-market capitalist ideologue proclaims an economy a miracle, get extremely worried (as per Milton Friedman's 1982 comments on Chile...).

The levels of craziness are high. For example, in July, a Republican Representative (Bob Inglis) described an angry constituent who confronted him at a South Carolina town hall meeting: "keep your government hands off my Medicare." Despite his best efforts to explain that Medicare is a government program, the voter, Inglis lamented, "wasn't having any of it." So I can only agree with Democratic Representative Barney Frank's comments at one of the Town Hall meetings on health care. These people really are nuts:

I should also point to the satirical group "Billionaires for Wealthcare":

Needless to say, these protestors are not libertarian or anarchistic. They may be against this government, but they are not anti-state (let alone anti-capitalist). In fact, given that around 70% of Americans favour health care reform these protestors must be part of the 20% who thought that the Bush Junta was going a good job... David Neiwert has an excellent blog on the America right and its quasi-fascist nature. Only someone with little or no grasp of libertarian ideas would think these protestors are worth bothering about -- unless it is to protest against them!

In addition: I should have noted that the anti-reform protests are being organised and promoted by big business as well as the Republican Party (not to mention Faux News, of course). So this addition seeks to correct this oversight. Here is Rachel Maddow (who seems to be an excellent reporter) via Crooks and Liars:

Strangely, Obama seems to fail to understand that, firstly, these people hate him and everything he stands for, secondly, that they are not interested in working for reform and, thirdly, many of them are fundamentally barking mad. They are seeking to kill reform and ensure that America stays neo-liberal (i.e., state aid for the rich, market forces for the working class). What is staggering, particularly given the net-effect of three decades of this, is that so many non-elite people seem to support it. Apparently working longer and harder in order to make the few even richer counts as "self-interest" (not to mention declining social mobility as inequality has increased, making it less likely for them to become part of the top 10% never mind the 1%). He should just repeat "we won, you lost" (supplemented with "I refuse to discuss inventions made by mad people") and get on with implementing his centralist democratic policies... His attempts at bi-partnership with the insane are sure-fire means of loosing both popular support and the initiative.

This question, of course, is why the insane reaction to the moderate reforms of a centralist democrat President? Is it really because he is black? In part, but also perhaps it is explained by the fact that they had convinced themselves that they spoke for America and they cannot square this with the awkward fact that America disagreed? If you think you have a God-given right to rule then seeing that ended must be confusing.

Needless to say, this nonsense makes it easy for satirists to ply their trade. First, the wonderful Daily Show and its recent raiding of the archives on that world-class nutter Glenn Beck:

It would be churlish to note that America is actually no. 37 in the world, a whole 2 places above Cuba (according to WHO). And, of course, the equally great Stephen Colbert:


Not that we should have any illusions that these reforms will be that radical. The Democrats get money from corporations, including insurance companies. Their reforms, lacking any popular protest, will reflect their base and the needs for capitalism. After all, this reform is not being conducted out of the kindness of the ruling elite's hearts. It reflects the fact that privatised health care is a drag on American capitalism and its competitiveness in the global economy. As Noam Chomsky put it:

So this is an example of the state acting in the interests of capitalism as a whole, as is one of its roles. Sadly, it is coming up against vested interests who seem to believe their own rhetoric on free market capitalism in America! Hence the crumbs being thrown to the masses (and, of course, the fact that such promises do get votes and that many Democrat politicians undoubtedly believe in reform as a good in itself).

So where does this leave anarchists? Well, as Chomsky said, this issue affects real people and the status quo is really not an option. The question becomes, should anarchists join in the debate for or against reform. I think that only an idiot would join those who are campaigning against reform and so that leaves supporting the reform movement. However, that is not enough (obviously) and I'll need to discuss this more but first I need to quickly address an obvious objection, namely the notion of anarchists supporting a government reform. Does this imply a contradiction for anarchists? No more than not supporting or commenting on reform (which implies the status quo). Most fundamentally there is no contradiction because anarchists are anti-state and anti-capitalist. This means the current American system of privatised health care is as anti-anarchist as any government system. The question then boils down to which of the two alternatives is better and the facts are pretty clear: the nationalised system (it is cheaper and gives better outcomes).

Moreover, we should not forget that the American system of employers providing health care increases the power of the boss over the wage-worker. If you are fired, you not only lose wages but also medical cover. That double-whammy cannot help but ensure obedience wage-slaves, willing to put up with whatever the boss dictates simply so they can forgo the anxiety associated with being un-insured. Having a universal system would mean that bosses have one less stick to wave over people's heads.

So, in terms of pure humanity I think that any sensible anarchist would be in favour of reform. In that fundamental sense we have more in common with "the left" (or Democrat voters) than the Tea-Baggers and Death- Panelistas. However, anarchists should be thinking of wider issues -- such as how to spread libertarian ideas and encourage a culture of resistance in the working class.

This implies two things.

First, stressing that only a mass movement and mass pressure from below will get the politicians acting. As such, we should be stressing the need for direct action and social-economic organisations (such as forming community assemblies and unions) to take the lead. This means turning up at public events to protest against the right and to give the politicians a glimpse of our power. By doing this we can create a culture of resistance infused with libertarian principles and mentality.

Second, we need to stress that we need to go beyond the whole privatisation or nationalisation perspective. Anarchists are against both nationalisation and privatisation. We need to raise the idea of socialisation and co-operation. The reforms are being attacked for being "socialised" medicine -- as if! The aim, at best, is a nationalised insurance scheme. Part of our task is to raise the idea of genuine socialised health care, arguing that reform based on nationalisation (however beneficial for working class people in the short term) is not enough. It is a case of saying nationalised insurance is better than privatised, but we should be aiming for something better -- namely a genuinely socialised system based on self-management and co-operation. The example of health care in the Spanish Revolution springs to mind, not to mention examples of pre-welfare state mutual aid organisations. Proudhon's ideas of public services organised by municipalities and run by workers co-operatives seems a good one to suggest.

Ultimately, if the Democrats are allowed to mess up reform again then this could be damaging psychologically for resistance. It would empower the right and destroy the potential that hope for change always brings. And, left to themselves, they will. If anything can be learned from this whole insane "debate" then it is the stupidity of leaving it to politicians to make reforms for you... A bit of mass protest will help focus their minds a lot more than patient waiting for Obama to turn his soaring rhetoric into action.

But, surely, this is a demand on the capitalist state? Yes, it is but the key factor is that it can be pressurised into granting deeper reforms by mass direct action. Equally, when we strike for higher wages we seek to pressurise capitalists by direct action. Few modern libertarians suggest that we should not strike because it is reformist and accepts the capitalist status quo! Ultimately, we are against reformism and not the struggle for reforms! The task of anarchists is to make that struggle as libertarian as possible and, in the process, make the goals sought more and more radical!

The point, I would suggest, is to recognise that anarchists are hardly going to be the decisive factor in this. The question is, how do we spread libertarian concepts (such as self-management, solidarity and so forth) in both tactics and longer term goals. We should be aware of how limited our influence is and seek to expand it by encouraging mass protest in favour of a reform which will benefit the many. Anything else suggests just sitting out of an important issue and so, in effect, siding with the capitalist status quo.

Finally on this subject, it would be remiss of me not to link to this excellent Tom Tomorrow cartoon on this very issue... Private health care, disqualifying people to pay CEO salaries and share-dividends... has a certain ring to it...

In addition: I should note that as I live in Britain (although I consider myself Scottish and an internationalist rather than British) I have actual, proper, nationalised health care. I consider myself lucky to have it (particularly after seeing Michael Moore's Sicko, which I watched when I was off with Chickpox). I can hardly suggest we deny it to others...

On other issues, I should point to this graph:


That gap explains why the top 10% of America is loaded while the bottom 80% are struggling to make ends meet (an issue Paul Krugman addressed well in his last book). This gap shows that the wealth we, the working class produce, ends up in the hands of the capitalist class, enriching them at our expense. I should point out that, according to neo-classical economics, wages should grow in line with wages. The last 30-odd years have disproved that particularly myth, although that should imply that the textbooks on economics reflect such empirical evidence! I should also stress that during that period, numerous reforms have been imposed which have brought the market closer to the free market ideal. Opps! But, still, AFAQ explains, marginal productivity theory was always deeply flawed... Still, it justified capital income so being logically and empirically flawed is pretty much irrelevant...

That gap also flows into the anarchist desire to abolish work. After all, if wages had reflected the rate of productivity after 1973 (as they did from 1945 and in the era of strong unions and other "market imperfections") then Americans could only be working four days a week...

And talking of union strength, a right-wing economist is suggesting that the Great Depression was caused by wages being too high! Yes, indeed, apparently because Herbert Hoover politely asked business leaders not to cut wages the result was the depression. I came across this kind of nonsense the first time in Murray Rothbard's book on the Great Depression, where the mere existence of unions made him uneasy and the source of many economic problems (they, at most, represented 10% of the workforce!). Of course, as one Keynesian economist notes ( Union Strength, Unemployment, and the Great Depression), wages were cut so suggesting that Hoover's pro-labour position was, well, verbal (The essential Sandwichman discusses this nonsense as well: And It Ain't Shinola and And It Ain't Shinola... II) But still, as I've blogged before, right-wing economists rarely seem to let evidence get in the way of blaming labour for capital's ills. And the evidence is that cutting wages does not reduce unemployment (in fact, high unemployment and low wages go together), as would be expected!

And talking of 10%, apparently UK Jobseekers allowance 10% average earnings. I'm waiting for some Tory scumbag to suggest that unemployment is rising in the UK because the dole is too generous... but perhaps a New Labourite will beat them to it?

Until I blog again, be seeing you...


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