Through the curiosities of circumstance, Nigel Clarke finds himself marooned in Ottawa, the capital of the socialist haven of Canada. Thanks to The Progressive Army and co-conspirators who must remain nameless, Nigel is able to smuggle his thoughts on life behind the curtain to the outside world each week.
To read last week’s correspondence click here
Earlier this week, through what I can only assume was a pirated signal from capitalist America, I was able to watch the debate between Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz on healthcare in the United States.
Many of the socialists around me appear to have also watched the debate — partially for the orgy of “foreign” accents: the Texan (Cruz), the Brooklynite (Bernie), the Washington-Establishment (the moderators) — but mostly because Canadians seem to have a keen interest in the American healthcare system; something they look upon with a mix of amusement and horror.
I stubbed my toe last week. It was moderately painful and the nail fell off. Curiously, nearly every person I told about this relatively humorous injury offered the same advice: “You should go to the doctor.”
It is a common refrain around here – Go to the doctor.
It strikes me that there is a dramatically different psyche among the people here regarding their health care.
For many Americans, health care is an ever-present cloud, a system which must be struggled against. It is interesting to observe a system in which “just how sick do I have to be before I will pay for health care?” or worse still, “what would happen if I got really sick?” are replaced with “go to the doctor.”
It was this type of thing Bernie elucidated during the debate as he advocated for universal healthcare.
As the counterweight in the debate, Cruz resolutely presented the stereotypical libertarian arguments against.
These arguments were what I found most intriguing. Specifically, if, or how, Cruz’s hypotheticals had manifested themselves within socialist Canada.
Cruz condemned the inevitability of what he called “rationing” under a system of universal healthcare; the idea that some are unable to get access to care in what they deem to be a timely manner.
A Canadian friend of mine has a party anecdote. It starts with him going to the doctor for knee discomfort and being scheduled for an MRI six months in the future. The next day, he takes his dog to the veterinarian – at a private, for-profit clinic – where they ask him to come back for an MRI for his dog … the next day.
I am not sure if this literally happened to him or if it is an anecdote of resistance from some sort of libertarian underground, but it is perhaps an example of the rationing Cruz warns about.
Of course, the US has a different kind of rationing regarding health care, one based on income. The difference with this kind of rationing is it is not about how quickly you can get an MRI for general soreness or whether or not you should go to the doctor for a stubbed toe. Rather, it is quite literally a case of rationing life and death.
The second point of opposition from Cruz was considerably more broad: Big Government.
The argument is that once the Pandora’s box of big government is opened, as in universal healthcare, the creep of socialism will inevitably encroach on individual freedom further and indefinitely.
So what was inside the Pandora’s box of Canadian healthcare?
Something which is hard not to notice here is the way the government engages with individual actions which only harm the person committing them.
The most blatant examples are cigarettes, which cost nearly $20 per pack, and alcohol, which is easily twice as expensive as in the US — both thanks to extreme taxation.
The idea is: If you get lung cancer or have a liver failure, then everyone will pay for the cost of your care. If you are increasing your chances of being a burden on society, you have to pay a higher cost into the system.
It’s sort of a self-inflicted ‘precondition of coverage.’
Deeper in Pandora’s box, we find something darker: exploitation of the unpeople.
Consider the Canadian smoker. I have noticed they are quite overtly portrayed in popular opinion as a burden on society and are recipients of vigorous disdain.
It is more than just high taxes on their vice. I met a smoker from Vancouver – a city on Canada’s west coast, like the US, the most ‘left’ leaning part of the country. They described how smoking was prohibited in any building, including a private residence if it was, as most places are in the most expensive housing market in North America, a rental unit. There was no smoking in parks or near the ocean. Further, smoking was prohibited within seven meters – about 20 feet – of essentially any building. Breaking any of these stipulations resulted in a substantial fine.
The person described taking a measuring tape from the front of a 7-11 store exactly seven meters away – across the sidewalk and right into the middle of the road.
Of course, the example of smokers is proportionately insignificant when compared to others deemed unpeople in Canada. Speak to a Native-Canadian about their history with this subject. But it does illuminate the greater point: As government regulations and restrictions have been built, few have been willing to defend smokers while they occupy the role of unpeople.
Across the border, many political ideologies in the U.S. – certainly the one practiced by Ted Cruz and his supporters – also present the people who are seen as a burden on the system as unpeople to be attacked and exploited. So there are attacks on the existence of social programs, education, and infrastructure budgets, there are gerrymandering and voting restrictions, and so on.
The point is, if the libertarian argument against universal health care is that it will empower the government to encroach on the rights of those it deems unpeople, it seems as though the American government already has, and uses, this power.
Really, the issue of contention is not as much providing universal health care, as resisting the creation of unpeople.
Perhaps this resistance starts with a defense of those currently marginalized. A beneficial way might just be universal health care.