April 22nd, 2011
Paul Krugman’s column today is precisely the answer to our dogmatic allegiance to the word, “Capitalism”. When George W. Bush referred to us all as consumers, rather than citizens, it communicated the concept that our status had changed as residents. In addition, every single product and service in existence was somehow a commodity for purchase by only those able to afford them.
Citizens greeted that with mixed reviews and determined that a change in administration was needed to preserve ‘entitlement’ programs. We chose to add medical care to the list of essentials which should not be referred to as ‘commodities’ to be purchased by consumers. In a society able to generate the needed revenue, Americans want to consider food, clothing, shelter and medical care to be basic necessities of life and something to grant one another wherever possible. This philosophy doesn’t require the word ‘socialism’ to be slapped onto our label, describing how we operate as a nation. Capitalism is about how we treat commodities, those goods and services we opt to acquire.
Since the constitution grants us the right to ‘life’, goods and services necessary to existence would seem to lose their classification as commodities. The Clean Air Act states that breathing is also a ‘right’ and we continue to struggle with enforcing its provisions. Does anyone really wish to state that legislative accomplishment is ‘socialist’ in nature? Is ‘air’ a commodity to be bought and sold or an aspect of the environment which is essential to our survival? Somehow the marketplace seems to be a rather bizarre arena in which to discuss such an urgent issue which is really dictated by our biological characteristics. The clean-up of serious pollution from various sources requires residents to trace the sources and mandate change through the available venues.
Once upon a time, jobs came with some degree of security and upward mobility for those with sufficient privilege to obtain them. We needn’t pretend that just anyone can succeed as our history continues to struggle with the failure of women and minorities to attain equality and justice. However, the employed had some expectations of longevity in their employment and the chance to put away some of their salaries when housing costs did not take up such a huge chunk of our incomes. With constant changes in the workforce keeping people from pensions, health care benefits and living wages, we have no option but to fund such programs through the public sector to make up for it.
Debate over ‘entitlement’ programs and the addition of medical care to that list of essential services, does not automatically change society into a ‘socialist’ construct. It does alter society from the perspective of our ‘social contract’ with one another, regardless of individual political and economic viewpoints.