Health Care Denial as Social Control

social control

social controlImplicit in the contemporary American health care system is a threat:  Conform and spend your life behaving yourself in limited jobs or we will deny you insurance and put your health and your family’s future at risk.

Restrictions on health care availability are an effective form of social control. We often talk about this in terms of women’s health care. But too often lost in the health care debate is the broader truth:  health care is used as a weapon of control. In a certain sense, we can be healthy or we can be truly free. So much for Patrick Henry.

Just one of the bizarre ironies of the current debate is the libertarian view that universal health care threatens our freedom. If libertarian-minded Americans would open their eyes, they’d see that just the opposite is true. How many Americans remain in dead-end jobs for the health benefits, however meager they might be? How many entrepreneurs never launch their independent initiatives because they can’t risk the loss of health care?

What is going to become of the generation just now graduating from college? In recent years, tuition has been jacked up to levels requiring many students to borrow heavily for undergrad degrees. They will enter the workforce already in debt.  If the Senate’s insurance mandate becomes law, they will be forced to buy expensive health insurance from a black-hearted insurance industry that trades in suffering and death. The rich and powerful make sure today’s youth start their lives in debt to the company store.

The consequences are profound. Innovation is stifled as people are padlocked in their cubicles or enslaved to the fast-food registers or big box retail hells. Risk-taking is strangled. Class divisions become permanent caste divisions. The rich get richer because only they can afford to take the risks that produce more wealth. Well, that’s not quite true. With the population well under control, the rich have been largely successful in eliminating financial risk altogether. The Wall Street bailout and Congress’ subservience to the lords of insurance make that much clear.

Family heads work two or three jobs to keep up. Neither young nor old have time for effective political engagement. That’s the very point of the social/political control. Want health care? Better stay off the streets and away from the ballot box.

Some claim American productivity is growing, and that means workers are happily getting ahead. Horseshit, as we say hereabouts. New Deal 2.0, a project of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute, put the lie to that claim:

The “productivity boom” idea is not new. But in the US, it as much a mirage as the money that drove the apparent boom. There was no productivity boom in the US in the last two decades of the 20th century; there was an import boom that came with productivity fallouts. What’s more, this boom was driven not by the spectacular growth of the American economy; it was driven by debt borrowed from the low-wage countries producing this wealth. The acceleration of productivity was accomplished by someone else doing the producing without getting proper credit for it.  It was called a “bubble” for a reason.

Meanwhile, US wages dropped. Outsourcing has not been the only factor driving US wages down: Even as average worker productivity within the US has surged, average hourly earnings have stagnated, while the nation’s economic elites have prospered with astronomical levels of incomes. The high-tech, information technology and financial services sectors operated on the model of low salaries and high stock options. Even for investors, the trend had been to favor equity appreciation over dividend income. Yet this flies in the face of a basic economic principle: Income is all, and economic growth without income is a fantasy.

I’ve been writing lately about how our politic debate is stuck in mid-20th Century mud. Our valiant efforts at health care reform have been framed in terms familiar to the old politics:  liberals want a big government solution; conservatives want to protect individual freedom from government.

While we’re stuck in the old politics, the corporatists have consolidated real power.  A corporatist believes that corporations transcend democratic institutions, safeguards, the public will, checks and balances. He aims for rule by corporation, unfettered by any regulations, voter reprisals or legal accountability. So-called tort reform was about ending public accountability for corporate wrongdoing…

…This fundamental issue — the issue we should be discussing — has been raised recently by three progressive writers:  Ed Kilgore in The New Republic, Glenn Greenwald in Salon, Jeffrey Feldman at Daily Kos.

Individualistic or libertarian-minded Americans should be with us in the health care debate. They’re not, because we haven’t made the right case to them. It’s corporatism that threatens their freedoms. We don’t want big government. We just want unaccountable, global economic powers to get their boot-heels off our throats. With real health care reform, reform that eliminated the economic, social and political control of our lives by a bloodthirsty health care industry, we could breathe again like Patrick Henry.

Author: Glenn W. Smith

Glenn W. Smith has spent the past 30 years in journalism and politics, where he’s made a name for himself as a writer, campaign manager, activist, think tank analyst and, as Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas says, a “legendary political consultant and all-around good guy.” “There’s no one like him,” says author George Lakoff. CNN commentator Paul Begala says, “He has unmatched experience, a graceful pen (or pixel nowadays) and deep insight into the best and worst of us.” Novelist Sarah Bird speaks of his “lucid and lyrical” prose. And, she says, he’s fun. Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington says Glenn writes with “grace and abundant humor” and “uses his colorful experiences in Texas to enlighten us all.”

Smith led Ann Richards’ successful 1990 campaign for Governor of Texas. He worked for former Texas Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby and U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen. Earlier, Smith was a political reporter for the Houston Chronicle and the Houston Post. He’s coordinated national campaigns for groups such as In 2004, he authored the highly acclaimed book, The Politics of Deceit: Saving Freedom and Democracy from Extinction. He also wrote Unfit Commander, a book that detailed George W. Bush’s mysterious disappearance from military service.

In 2004, Smith was featured in the film, Bush’s Brain, a documentary about Karl Rove. Smith provided commentary on Rove’s role as then-President Bush’s senior advisor. He has made numerous media appearances with Chris Mathews on Hardball, Joe Scarborough, Brit Hume, and many others. He writes a regularly for top national web sites, including FireDogLake and Huffington Post.

As a senior fellow at George Lakoff’s prestigious Rockridge Institute in Berkeley he studied, wrote and taught on the power of metaphor and narrative in political communications. He also lectured on religion and politics at the Starr King School for Ministry in Berkeley. As a sponsor and organizer, he has pulled together numerous national events with progressive religious leaders. He also organized a celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King at Riverside Church in New York City as well as “Freedom and Faith” bus tours, which was a nationwide campaign for social justice and progressive values.

Smith’s play, Double Play, which explored American Western myths and legends, was held over to sold-out audiences. He’s even written and performed songs in the Americana tradition, such as his best-known song, “Helping Marty Robbins,” a tribute to his hometown, Houston.

Most recently, Smith is the creator of DogCanyon, a political and cultural web site covering state, national and global issues from a Texas perspective. DogCanyon is an exhilarating and unique site that gets the connections between politics and culture and explores both the personal side of politics and the ups, down, craziness and beauty of “life its ownself,” as humorist Dan Jenkins would say. DogCanyon offers heartfelt personal essays, hard-hitting political analysis, and, most importantly, laughs.

As Paul Begala said, Smith writes in “the finest, firmest, fearless tradition of Texas essayists like Molly Ivins.”

9 thoughts on “Health Care Denial as Social Control”

  1. You can see this in the fear of so many of those who think they are among the “haves”. They are so afraid that they may lose their health insurance they viciously attack anyone who tries to better the situation for everyone.
    There seems to be a collective, scared hush among so many who are afraid any change will leave them out in the cold, and that is what they have been indoctrinated to believe.
    Good job, as usual, Glenn.

  2. First, I generally agree with the sentiment expressed here (and by the way, some libertarian arguments about health care a few months ago .

    That said, the current status quo is not totally oppressive for the individual worker…assuming that you don’t have pre-existing conditions (and even that is being fixed). An individual who feels trapped by a job with health insurance probably had a false sense of job security to begin with. A company may not have the employee’s interest at heart; furthermore, it is very hard to be an educated consumer; I probably can manage it; but 90% of the population would have a lot of difficulty making cost-effective and health-effective health insurance.

    The question is whether the efficiencies (!?) of private industry is outweighed by its lack of public accountability.

    1. The question is whether the efficiencies (!?) of private industry is outweighed by its lack of public accountability.

      The inefficiencies of private insurance (30 percent of health spending is on their overhead — largely the bureaucracy needed to reject claims) are compounded by the lack of public accountability. It’s bad.

  3. Thanks for this – this idea of of health care denial as social control is powerful.

    One of the reasons we have been unable to make the right case to them, as you say, is our inability to tie health reform to forms of social insurance that they are comfortable with and strongly support – Social Security and Medicare. Part of that, I think, is because many people fail to understand the idea of social insurance – or even the idea of insurance. It’s incompatible with the view that I should only pay for what I use – insurance pools risks, and social insurance pools risks that we all inevitably face. Trying to make the case for health reform without using that idea or these models is an impossible task.

    Of course, that idea of social insurance requires understanding the great progressive ideal that we are all in this together, or to put it slightly differently, that we are all full and equal persons.

    Turning health reform into a corporatist project is a terribly unfortunate lost opportunity.

  4. Very apt! I have been hearing Grace Slick in my head a lot more in the past few years…
    “Don’t talk back, some ruler says,
    or everything you need will go away”

    1. Or the Coasters:

      Just finish cleanin’ up your room
      Let’s see that dust fly with that broom
      Get all that garbage out of sight
      Or you don’t go out Friday night
      Yakety yak (don’t talk back)

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