I was struck recently that people in our country are really good at seperating government they like and ‘big government’. I was up in Maine, in Acadia National Park, which is truly one of the most amazing places I have been. While on several ranger led hikes through the park I got to thinking about the ‘Government Program’ I was partaking in at the time. I guessed that the people on the hike weren’t thinking that they we were experiencing a government program or experiencing ‘big government’. After all the rangers were perfectly nice people who stayed around to answer questions and most everyone on these hikes seemed to enjoy them.
This past week I have been watching Ken Burn’s documentary on PBS about the National Parks (The National Parks: America’s Best Idea) which I have been enjoying a lot. The 12 hours series repeatedly showed while discussing the origins of several of the parks the contrasts of National Parks and commercialized venues such as Niagara Falls. It was interesting to see that the individuals who were instrumental in creating the parks, did so very often in the face of private industry seeking to capitalize on the land. Places like Niagra Falls that are surrounded by wax musuems, casinos, etc stands in stark contrast to the parks.
Its possible that in one vein the enterprises were right, that in the short run the Grand Canyon would create a larger economic benefit if commercial enterprise came in. The flaw I think is that under a capitalistic model the process of exploiting the economic value of the park is done so with a short range vision (those running the companies need to extract maximum value in their lifetime – some kind of tragedy of the commons like parallel) capitalism sometimes bypasses the effects and reduced benefits for people in 100, 200, 300 years that would be there if the park wasn’t polluted, mined, commercialized.
The story was the same for many parks, Arizonians fought the creation of the Grand Canyon as a national park, but fast forward to today and no one would say it was a bad decision. Denali national park 40 years later in Alaska faced the same set of criticims from locales, only a short time later they sought to expanded it.
So what is the point of all of this? Well I guess it has got me thinking that there are a lot of flaws in capitalism (among others the free market assumes rational behavior something I have been interested to learn doesn’t exist – oh and no I haven’t seen Michael Moore’s movie yet before branding me a communist). It just seems turning back to the health care debate that the free market has many potential flaws and I don’t think the free market works real well in delivering certain goods (nature as we just discussed, police & fire service didn’t do well as private enterprises and I am guessing not many people want to go back to private fire & police, the mail (despite Obama seemingly conceding (wrongly I believe) the US mail is not done well compared to Fedex and UPS, forgetting that Fedex and UPS do not deliver first class mail to every house in the country and that they will not deliver packages to all addresses in the US, as there are a few places that are too remote and costly, but the US mail has to by law), oh and of course the military, that so many anti government folks seem to be big fans of). Health care, especially as long as we have a system where we provide universal emergency care, is not efficient as a divided up pie where some treatment is given if needed and other preventative aspects and proper nutrition and excercise are ignored. Right now those of us with private health insurance spend a staggeringly large amount of money on private bureaucracy, which despite that we are still put in the position of fearing bankruptcy if we have a catastrophic health problem, are faced with the fear of changing jobs due to possible loss of coverage and I think many of us don’t even know what are true salary is (we are getting paid a whole lot less due to huge medical insurance costs we don’t see, if people were offered a gov’t option, no bells & whistles health care plan but got a lot higher take home pay, some of us might take that).
So while I’ll agree with you I am rambling and I may have missed the point I was hoping to make, the point is this, I think that our health care reform efforts have been greatly swung off track, the Democrats are missing a major opportunity to improve our country and we should be aiming higher. We need to be ready to acknowledge that the free market might not deliver all products well, it didn’t make us un-American and undemocratic to create national parks and fire departments and creating a universal health plan won’t either.
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