Saturday, July 14, 2012

In sickness and death

I want to go back a little bit to support of the death penalty. The line that I quoted was only part of a paragraph about people who support it. I am now reproducing the paragraph in full:

“ Solicitor Jones was a member of the same Episcopal church as Dorothy Edwards. But he wasn’t looking for Episcopalians, because their church is opposed to the death penalty. Jones wanted Southern Baptists, members of the most conservative church in a conservative region, among the staunchest believers in capital punishment. Get more than four Southern Baptists on the jury, and once your client is convicted, he’s doomed to be sentenced to die, death penalty lawyers say. Whites tend to support the death penalty more than blacks, men more than women, married persons more than singles, wealthy people more than poor people, suburbanites more than urbanites. And individuals who believe in capital punishment are generally more inclined to convict, to believe the police and the prosecutor.” (Anatomy of Injustice, Raymond Bonner, pp 50-51.)

As I indicated, it was the last sentence that really chilled me, but there are some other interesting things there. Generally speaking, people who believe in the death penalty are those at the top. Setting aside the Southern Baptist thing for now, you have white, male, and wealthy. Those are people for whom society has tended to work out pretty well. Maybe that makes it easier for them to believe that the police and the prosecutors, the enforcers of society, have it right. Married versus single may indicate that they are more financially established, or more conformist.

The suburban versus urban surprised me, because out here in the suburbs we are not particularly wealthy, but there may be two factors here. I believe back East it is more of a thing that people who can afford some property, and can afford cars to get to the property, are the ones who move into the suburbs. In the West we have the whole sprawl thing going on, and also poor people are getting priced out of the city by urban renewal, and moving out here. I suspect in the sense used in the book it is still, hey, society works for us, it’s a good thing, surely they wouldn’t be accusing this person of murder if he didn’t deserve it.

Now I want to take this mindset over into healthcare.

Remember, I spent eleven years at Intel, but I think less than two years of that was as an Intel employee. During that time period, the health plan was great. I had a $5000 hospital bill that did not cost me a dime. Yes, I was a good employee for them, but I still have to consider that basically being lucky. I was a really good employee for the various contracting firms too, and none of them had a health plan like that. I know people who are excellent Intel employees now, and they don’t have health care like that. I didn’t even have a monthly premium back then!

I remember sometimes discussing the issue of healthcare back then, and it was a common refrain that if people didn’t like they health plan that their employer offered, they should just look for another job. There was a strong subtext of “I deserve this.”

Well, let’s fast forward a few years—how many of those people are still completely satisfied with their employer offered healthcare, I wonder? I’m a strong believer in demand-side economics, and I promise you, those great perks of the late 90’s were due to a thriving economy where lots of people were hiring, and so employers had to make themselves attractive. Yes, being a good employee was helpful, and gave you more choices, but employers offered those perks because they needed to, not out of the goodness of their hearts or their deep love for you. (Oddly, this all happened before the Bush tax cuts.)

I am truly grateful that I had that good health coverage when I needed it. Even at the times when I had kind of crummy health plans, I was grateful for those. When I was unemployed though, in a down economy, I did what so many others too, couldn’t manage maintenance care, and ended up in an emergency room. I did not personally deserve that anymore than I deserved to have a free hospital stay ten years earlier. A lot of it was due to forces completely outside of my control.

It truly bothers me when people find it so easy to assume that the problem is that other people are lazy. The laziest person I’ve ever known has been pretty steadily employed, actually, as well as one of the most incompetent. (It’s kind of amazing what some management will put up with to avoid admitting that they have made a mistake.)

One of the things I appreciated about Wealth and Our Commonwealth, by Bill Gates Sr. and Chuck Collins, is that they acknowledged that much of their success was possible due to services and opportunities that were provided through the government, ranging from transportation infrastructure to army and police. It’s not that they didn’t work or that things were handed to them, but they realized that their success did not come in a vacuum.

And there are so many places one could jump off from here, but for today, I am stopping.

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