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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Healthcare, Education, and Socialism

So this is going to a moderately political entry, but it's just as much a personal story, appropriate given the ongoing discussion (or argument) about the role of government in American society.

I grew up in England in the 60s and 70s.  I suppose that makes me a Euro-socialist, except that in England I was clearly a conservative.  Not quite in the Maggie Thatcher "shut-down-the-evil-unions" camp, but certainly on the "unions should not be allowed to throttle free enterprise" team.  Although I studied Aeronautical Engineering at university, I also studied social sciences, mostly on the side and not for credit.  Adam Smith's "Wealth Of Nations" and his notions of the invisible hand of the free market influenced me, as did Keynes and Friedman with their concepts about government involvement in national economies to smooth the ride.  The free market is the economic engine, but monetary policy is the springs and suspension.

As such, I was for a generally smaller government than existed at the time in the UK, where about 50% of the employed population worked either directly for governments or indirectly in government owned enterprises such as Roll Royce, British Airways, or British Rail - where my Dad worked designing rolling stock.  The high inflation of the 70's (over 30% in the UK) caused the government to freeze wages in all publicly owned companies, which resulted in us becoming poorer and poorer, especially relative to our neighbors, many of whom worked for private companies which increased salaries to keep up with the high inflation rate (and fed it too).

So when my younger sister became ill in 1971, we had little money to spare.  Fortunately, the much maligned National Health Service (NHS)  provided free care to all comers (and still does, although diminished in modern Britain).  My sister had leukemia, and it eventually killed her after 3 years of hard fought battles, multiple chemotherapy sessions, relapses and emotional highs and lows.  If we have been living in the USA, it would have bankrupted my family within weeks, even with insurance.  Without insurance, I don't want to even think about what would have happened.  So I am a believer in a single payer national (or state) run health insurance that covers everyone.  It's effective, efficient, and means that no-one goes to the economic wall due to sickness.  In the USA that apparently makes me an ultra-liberal, but I think it just makes sense, instead of the miss-mash of semi-free market insurances and individual billers that we deal with everyday.

In 1976, I graduated from my high school after taking A-level exams in Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry, and started college in London.  My family was just squeaking buy economically, and within 6 months my Dad received an offer to work in the USA for 3 times what he was making at British Rail.  Once he arrived, he found out that his peers were making even more, and that the cost of living was even less.  So he prospered in the New World.

Back in the old one, I was studying hard.  Making it easier was the fact that all my tuition, all my books, all my room and board were paid for by the government.  I even got a small grant to live on, supplemented by my parents.  This year, Thing 1 is looking at colleges, and they cost between $47,000 and $18,000 per year, depending on residence status and weather they are private or state owned.  Since she is also a UK citizen through me, I looked at costs in the UK, but we would be classed as non-residents and the prices are about the same over there.  I was fortunate - it might not have been the best of times politically or economically, but my college education cost me nothing, and I think it is very unfair that we are saddling our college graduates with tens of thousands of dollars in debt from day 1, and that the cost of a 4 year degree is about the same as buying and paying for a new house.  I suspect that makes me once again a liberal, although even free market conservatives are sitting up and taking notice of this problem now that it's affecting their bank balances.

So I feel very frustrated when I hear people knocking government and saying that "Government is the problem" (Ronald Reagan), or "Government doesn't create jobs" (Mitt Romney).  I know 100% that they are wrong.  But Government shouldn't expand to own the means of products (socialism) and the power of unions must be restricted to just address issues of employment and not policy.  So what am I?  Pretty much a liberal-leaning centrist, I think.  Even though my Tea Party friends would call me a Euro-socialist.  It worked for me.

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