Friday, July 24, 2009

New Rule: Not Everything in America Has to Make a Profit

As usual, Bill Maher says something very simply and funnily and is dead-on with how I feel:

How about this for a New Rule: Not everything in America has to make a profit. It used to be that there were some services and institutions so vital to our nation that they were exempt from market pressures. Some things we just didn't do for money. The United States always defined capitalism, but it didn't used to define us. But now it's becoming all that we are.

Did you know, for example, that there was a time when being called a "war profiteer" was a bad thing? But now our war zones are dominated by private contractors and mercenaries who work for corporations. There are more private contractors in Iraq than American troops, and we pay them generous salaries to do jobs the troops used to do for themselves ­-- like laundry. War is not supposed to turn a profit, but our wars have become boondoggles for weapons manufacturers and connected civilian contractors.

Prisons used to be a non-profit business, too. And for good reason --­ who the hell wants to own a prison? By definition you're going to have trouble with the tenants. But now prisons are big business. A company called the Corrections Corporation of America is on the New York Stock Exchange, which is convenient since that's where all the real crime is happening anyway. The CCA and similar corporations actually lobby Congress for stiffer sentencing laws so they can lock more people up and make more money. That's why America has the world;s largest prison population ­-- because actually rehabilitating people would have a negative impact on the bottom line.

Television news is another area that used to be roped off from the profit motive. When Walter Cronkite died last week, it was odd to see news anchor after news anchor talking about how much better the news coverage was back in Cronkite's day. I thought, "Gee, if only you were in a position to do something about it."

But maybe they aren't. Because unlike in Cronkite's day, today's news has to make a profit like all the other divisions in a media conglomerate. That's why it wasn't surprising to see the CBS Evening News broadcast live from the Staples Center for two nights this month, just in case Michael Jackson came back to life and sold Iran nuclear weapons. In Uncle Walter's time, the news division was a loss leader. Making money was the job of The Beverly Hillbillies. And now that we have reporters moving to Alaska to hang out with the Palin family, the news is The Beverly Hillbillies.

And finally, there's health care. It wasn't that long ago that when a kid broke his leg playing stickball, his parents took him to the local Catholic hospital, the nun put a thermometer in his mouth, the doctor slapped some plaster on his ankle and you were done. The bill was $1.50, plus you got to keep the thermometer.

But like everything else that's good and noble in life, some Wall Street wizard decided that hospitals could be big business, so now they're run by some bean counters in a corporate plaza in Charlotte. In the U.S. today, three giant for-profit conglomerates own close to 600 hospitals and other health care facilities. They're not hospitals anymore; they're Jiffy Lubes with bedpans. America's largest hospital chain, HCA, was founded by the family of Bill Frist, who perfectly represents the Republican attitude toward health care: it's not a right, it's a racket. The more people who get sick and need medicine, the higher their profit margins. Which is why they're always pushing the Jell-O.

Because medicine is now for-profit we have things like "recision," where insurance companies hire people to figure out ways to deny you coverage when you get sick, even though you've been paying into your plan for years.

When did the profit motive become the only reason to do anything? When did that become the new patriotism? Ask not what you could do for your country, ask what's in it for Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

If conservatives get to call universal health care "socialized medicine," I get to call private health care "soulless vampires making money off human pain." The problem with President Obama's health care plan isn't socialism, it's capitalism.

And if medicine is for profit, and war, and the news, and the penal system, my question is: what's wrong with firemen? Why don't they charge? They must be commies. Oh my God! That explains the red trucks!

"Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone." -- John Maynard Keynes


wunelle said...

Gotta love Bill Maher. He seems always to hit his marks. I've wondered (in an incoherent way) exactly the same thing: how is it that our economy either grows or the sky falls? Seems fundamentally askance.

Scott said...

Well if profit is bad, why leave it to anything? Why should food be left to profit? We all need food. Why should housing be left to profit? We all need shelter?

Laura said...

Yeah... if they can't afford their own food and housing, let them die in the streets!!! YAY capitalism!!!!

There are social programs (non-profit) that provide food and shelter to the needy - it's totally underfunded, but they exist. There has to be a balance because any pure ideology fails at some aspect of the social order. Pure capitalism is every man for himself socioeconomic darwinism at its worst. Pure socialism is government dictating what people can and should do and how for "the common good." When you balance the two like many EU countries have done, you end up with the best compromise out there.

The Zombieslayer said...

I don't believe profits should be made from prisons as that's just wrong, and if profits are made from prisons, you have to wonder if a lobby would be formed to make more things illegal in order to make more prisons. Sound like a conspiracy? Is it? Think about it.

Health care though should be profitable. Doctors and Nurses should be paid, and they don't make shit under socialized medicine. That's just a fact. That's why we get so many really good foreign Doctors and Nurses here, because they simply make more money and have more opportunity. Hell, my wife is seeing a Chinese acupuncturist who is really good, who wasn't making much at all in China so she's here and living a good life.

Now, the one thing that pisses me off about capitalism is how someone can look at the outdoors and want to build something stupid like a housing development, urban sprawl, or a golf course. But then again, the root of that problem is not any ism like capitalism or socialism. It's simply there are too many fucking people in this world and we're spreading so fast that we're wiping out everything in our path. But that's something neither liberals nor conservatives want to admit so I hate them both.

dbackdad said...

I'm always wary of those that think free-market and democracy are synonymous. Obviously the free-market is a big component but there are certain segments that should not be driven by a profit motive. Pure economic systems have led to nightmares like Chile under Pinochet.

The profit motive in healthcare has not led to better care. We have the 45th highest life expectancy in the world yet we have arguably the best doctors. Why is that? Most of the people don't get those doctors. They put off going to the hospital until it's an emergency. And don't tell me that shit doesn't happen. I know it happens from personal experience. There were times growing up where our family did not have health coverage. And we certainly availed ourselves of the food programs (government cheese) that Laura spoke of that were available when we needed them.

Our healthcare would actually be cheaper if preventative care was covered. There would be less costly emergency room visits and costly surgeries.

Those that are able to pay for their own insurance and care would continue to do so. Those that cry "socialized medicine" are doing it as a scare tactic.

ZS said, " ... there are too many fucking people in this world and we're spreading so fast that we're wiping out everything in our path" - Amen, brother. Urban sprawl and overpopulation have always been my pet issues. You are right ... they are the issues that nobody really wants to admit.

Laura said...

Health care for profit is one of those slippery slopes. Yes, doctors and nurses and researchers deserve to get paid for their work and expertise. It's a hard field to get into, and it's an expensive education.

That said - where is the line to be drawn between affordability and profit? This is especially true in pharmaceuticals. If someone invented a drug that cured some awful disease - should they be allowed to charge whatever they want for it? Even if that means people who need it, who can't afford it will die without it?

Should only those people able to afford the BEST care, get the best care? We're talking about people's well being and people's lives, not their ability to buy a Lexus instead of a Honda.

There has to be a balance between personal gain and social responsibility. That's where regulations come in. Because, let's face it, corporations and profit-making industries need to be regulated by an outside force. It's been proven time and time again that human greed will win out over social responsibility without it.

And yes, there are way too many fuckin people in the world.

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