Thursday, April 18, 2013

Allow Me To Politicize Tragedy

In this piece I will make a point about healthcare, and I will exploit two recent episodes of American tragedy to do it.

To frame the issue that the point is about, I want to hearken back to a theme often heard from conservatives when discussing public healthcare policy. First and foremost they are interested in efficiency -- in cost containment. "Of course we want people to be cared for and lead healthy lives," they say, seemingly reasonably, before adopting a pinched visage of thoughtful concern: "But who's gonna pay for all that?"

When I read the news and see headlines like "Boston Marathon bombed, 3 dead, more than 100 injured" and "Texas fertilizer factory explosion kills 5, injures over 160," a thousand thoughts rush into my head. But here's one that doesn't: "Who's gonna pay for all that?"

If, on the other hand, your very first reaction to either of those headlines was "but who's gonna pay for all that?" then, by the power vested in me as a non-asshole, I decree that you lack all human compassion.

And if you pass that test, and thoughts of cost containment were at the end of the line, and you do have basic human compassion, then -- why would you wonder "but who's gonna pay for all that?" in any other, lesser, context? What extra moral imperative is imbued in the flashy, obvious, explosion-based disasters that is missing from more subdued disasters like, say, cancer, or clinical depression? Wherever it is that you're drawing that line is morally inferior to simply erasing it.

So in a few months, when things have calmed down, when we're back in the mode where misfortune is more a matter of comfortable, inside-out decay than anxiety-provoking, outside-in impingements, and we're bored enough to argue about healthcare again, I want you to remember this point. Remember, and refrain from changing the subject to economics, when it had properly been the alleviation of human suffering.

Human suffering is worth the cost required to alleviate it, period. It would be interesting to redesign economics around that axiom and see what kind of civilization we arrive at.