Today I would like to direct your attention to the latest column by Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman.
No, don’t go away; this is not about government stimulus of a moribund economy as John Maynard Keynes would advocate. And this is not about Joseph Stiglitz’s three trillion dollar estimate for the cost of the Iraq war.
Krugman today says that a little more than a year from now, Americans will be making a statement about what sort of country we want to live in; whether we will continue the progressive movement that started during the Theodore Roosevelt administration and got legs during the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt, or if we will forego the social contract forged over the last century and revert to a “crueler, harsher nation” with a devil-take-the-hindmost mentality where life outside the gated compounds resembles a Mad Max movie. (At least until that “Masque of the Red Death”)
Again, our story begins with a moment from the Tea Party debate last Monday. This, from Krugmaan..
“Wolf Blitzer asked Rep. Ron Paul what we should do if a 30-year-old man who chose not to purchase health insurance suddenly found himself in need of six months of intensive care. Paul replied, "That's what freedom is all about - taking your own risks." Blitzer pressed him again, asking whether "society should just let him die." And the crowd erupted with cheers and shouts of "Yeah!"
“Now, there are two things you should know about the Blitzer-Paul exchange. The first is that after the crowd weighed in, Paul basically tried to evade the question, asserting that warm-hearted doctors and charitable individuals would always make sure that people received the care they needed - or at least they would if they hadn't been corrupted by the welfare state. Sorry, but that's a fantasy. People who can't afford essential medical care often fail to get it, and always have - and sometimes they die as a result.
“The second is that very few of those who die from lack of medical care look like Blitzer's hypothetical individual who could and should have bought insurance. In reality, most uninsured Americans either have low incomes and cannot afford insurance, or are rejected by insurers because they have chronic conditions.
“So would people on the right be willing to let those who are uninsured through no fault of their own die from lack of care? The answer, based on recent history, is a resounding "Yeah!"
“Think, in particular, of the children.
“The day after the debate, the Census Bureau released its latest estimates on income, poverty and health insurance. The overall picture was terrible: The weak economy continues to wreak havoc on American lives. One relatively bright spot, however, was health care for children: The percentage of children without health coverage was lower in 2010 than before the recession, largely thanks to the 2009 expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP.
“And the reason SCHIP was expanded in 2009 but not earlier was, of course, that former President George W. Bush blocked earlier attempts to cover more children - to the cheers of many on the right. Did I mention that one in six children in Texas lacks health insurance, the second-highest rate in the nation?
“So the freedom to die extends, in practice, to children and the unlucky as well as the improvident. And the right's embrace of that notion signals an important shift in the nature of American politics.
“In the past, conservatives accepted the need for a government-provided safety net on humanitarian grounds. Don't take it from me, take it from Friedrich Hayek, the conservative intellectual hero, who specifically declared in The Road to Serfdom his support for "a comprehensive system of social insurance" to protect citizens against "the common hazards of life," and singled out health in particular.
“Now, however, compassion is out of fashion - indeed, lack of compassion has become a matter of principle, at least among the GOP's base.
“And what this means is that modern conservatism is actually a deeply radical movement, one that is hostile to the kind of society we've had for the past three generations - that is, a society that, acting through the government, tries to mitigate some of the "common hazards of life" through such programs as Social Security, unemployment insurance, Medicare and Medicaid.
“Are voters ready to embrace such a radical rejection of the kind of America we've all grown up in? I guess we'll find out next year.”