The loudest voice, piercing through the debate over health care is unquestionably sure “privatization is always better.” Because Republicans (who are in the government) will readily tell you – the government never does anything right. Which explains why the most popular people in their Grand Old Party no longer hold any personally “taxing” jobs in the government (Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and as of Sunday, Sarah Palin), opting (fittingly) for private political gigs.
Less government control is always good? The private sector is always first-rate? Free market capitalism is the cure-all? Even for health care?!
Let’s look at this reasonably: Firefighting used to be a private for-profit industry. In the 1800’s, the early days of urbanization, in cities like New York and Baltimore, there were private “clubs” or “gangs” who were in charge of putting out fires. The infamous Boss Tweed started his illustrious political career at a volunteer fire company. The way it functioned was the first club at the scene got money from the insurance company. So, they had an incentive to get there fast. They also had an incentive to sabotage competition. They also often ended up getting in fights over territory and many times buildings would burn down before the issue was resolved. They were glorified looters. It was corrupt, bloated and expensive – but at least it wasn’t the much maligned “government controlled.”
Around the time of the Civil War, firefighting in big cities was reformed and taken over by the government. Currently firefighters in most major metropolises are trained by the government, employed by the government and given health care – wait for it – by the government.
Yet if we had to have the “conversation” about the firefighting industry today, we’d have socialism-phobic South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint on the TV every chance he could get saying things like, “Do you want a government bureaucrat between you and the safety of your home?”
Rep. John Boehner of Ohio would hold press conferences and ask, “Do you want your firefighting to be like going to the DMV? Do you want Uncle Sam to come breaking down your door every time some Washington fat cat says there’s a fire?”
There would be 30-second TV spots paid for by the powerful firefighting lobby featuring stars and stripes graphics and the national anthem playing softly in the background with a booming voice-over trumpeting, “Founding Fathers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were volunteer firefighters. Support traditional values and oppose government waste. Tell your representative you want a bi-partisan solution to fire reform.”
News programs would be interviewing sobbing people whose homes fell through the cracks and burned to the ground. “I don’t want to see the government take-over firefighting, but I sure miss Momma’s oil paintings.”
And President Barack Obama would relay his childhood experience with a fire then point out the failure of the for-profit firefighting industrial complex that “threatens to bankrupt this country.” And then those most in need of firefighting services would foam about his birth certificate and confuse Karl Marx with Charles Darwin on misspelled protest signs at events put on by covert firefighting lobbyists.
But instead, today firefighters are national heroes. They’re organized, quick, competent and with few exceptions pillars of the community. Their duty is to protect people and their property and they do it. They make no profits, are part of the government and they help people 24-hours a day. They even let seniors live. No debate necessary. What started out as a shady gaming of the system where the general public’s welfare was at risk is today something of national pride.
So government can do something right. It’s happened.
Less government is not always good. The private sector is not always first-rate. And free market capitalism does not cure all.
Do I want my health care to be like the DMV? I’ve seen clinics that make the DMV look like destination spa. DMV is affordable and I can always get seen the same day (I have insurance and I can’t say the same about my doctor). So yeah, DMV-esque wouldn’t be too bad. What would be better is if doctors could be like firefighters.
This piece ran at the LA Daily News and Huffington Post.