Recently, I was talking to a friend of the family. A middle-aged woman with a PhD, she's fluent in three languages and has spent a reasonable portion of her life in Europe.
One question that came up was why, in certain countries, people might be disallowed from spending their own money to buy health care that the relevant national health care system might deem to be unnecessary or of low priority.
The basic premise underlying that question, of course, is that people who have sufficient money should be able to spend it on anything they choose. It's a pretty common premise, particularly in this country. But it's not completely true.
When some function is seen as critical to the functioning of society, the application of money to advantage one individual over another is no longer seen as consumer choice, it's seen as corruption. People shouldn't be able to spend money to get better treatment from the justice system. They shouldn't be able to spend money (at least, not directly) to influence people when they're in the voting booth. And they shouldn't be able to buy legislation (again, at least not directly).
Physical security and equal treatment before the law is something a just society provides. Universal education is something a just (and wise, and capable) society provides. And, for the citizens of most developed countries, health care is something their society (just) provides. Some of those countries have decided that allowing private money (and private providers) to enter the health care market is as corrupting as allowing bribery of police or judges or legislators. As Hannah Arendt said, "Society is the form in which the fact of mutual dependence for the sake of life and nothing else assumes public significance." Health care would seem to qualify.
My concern is not that this woman (a US citizen) doesn't have universally-available health insurance. (Her husband is a federal retiree; health insurance isn't a problem for them.) Nor do I worry that, in spite of having traveled and lived extensively in countries with universal health care she still doesn't understand how it works or how it affects social dynamics. My concern is that she seems typical of so many Americans who appear unable to imagine any situation other than the one in which they currently find themselves. No health care finance system other than the one we have (except, perhaps, the one we had before the Affordable Care Act was passed). No education system other than the one we have. No legislative system other than the one we have. No military other than the one we have. No economic system other than the one we have.
Have we created a generation or three with no real sense of possibility? And if we (society) have, how much of the damage has been done by those of us in education?
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