Time For A Change
As the new year begins and the COVID 19 pandemic continues to rage worse than ever, it is an obvious metaphor of the fate that awaits us all unless we consider seismic changes in the way we do business as a government and as a people.
It took a worldwide plague to remind people everywhere that we are all connected and that the failure of one country can and will lead to the failure of all, with tragic results. Inequality, like a plague, spreads and infects the world.
The choice is nothing short of survival or destruction: The nations of the world have to cooperate and commit all resources to find ways to avoid another pandemic and to join in preparing for what some say is the unavoidable next pandemic. But that won’t happen with rhetoric, name-calling and the blame game. We’ve seen that poison grow and it has gotten us to the state we are in. We are all in this together, from each end of the political spectrum and anyone who thinks otherwise is either blind or part of the one percenters who will continue to have their jets and their yachts and their mansions even if the rest of the world goes down in flames.
The crisis of the current plague has ripped off the scabs to expose so many societal problems that come back to income inequality and failure of governments to act in the best interests of their people.
An eye-opening examination of what we should learn from the pandemic is the topic of a new book by Fareed Zakaria, “Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World.” Zakaria, an editorial writer for the Washington Post, writes about capitalism and the American way of life, compared with the hybrid system of socialism and capitalism in Denmark.
“Imagine that you’re an average family. You and your spouse have a child and make the mean household income. You could choose to live in either America or Denmark. In high-tax Denmark, your disposable income after taxes and transfers would be around $15,000 lower than in the states. But in return for your higher tax bill, you would get universal health care (one with better outcomes than in the US), free education right up through the best graduate schools, worker retraining programs on which the state spends 17 times more as a percentage of GDP than what is spent in America, as well as high-quality infrastructure, mass transit and many beautiful public parks and other spaces. Danes also enjoy some 550 hours more of leisure time than Americans do. If the choice was put this way -you can take the extra $15,000 but have to work longer hours, take fewer vacations days and fend for yourself on health care, education, retraining and transport — I think most Americans would choose the Danish model (my italics).”
This is not to say that the Danish system is perfect or that it is the panacea for all that is wrong. Denmark is a much smaller nation than the U.S. with a very different cultural history. But it certainly is a system that merits more consideration as one direction this country’s leaders should consider to avoid the pending cataclysm.
I suppose if I had listened more closely to Bernie Sanders, I might have learned a thing or two about Denmark or other Scandinavian countries. But I didn’t listen that closely to Bernie Sanders because I thought he was just a pie in the sky idealist who would get buried by the system if he was president. But Bernie was right in many ways in urging for much more governmental involvement in health care, jobs, infrastructure and more.
This is a rhetorical question. Why aren’t we taught about alternative systems like the one in Denmark and why are we focused only on the U.S. system with a few tweaks here and there. The answer, if one is needed, is that the wealthy and powerful have so much to gain by a system where health care is obscenely expensive, higher education is primarily for the wealthy, taxes are relatively low and the petrochemical industry is pervasive.
We are told that we are an enterprising lot and that the less government the better, the less taxes the better. That failed philosophy has led us to the current state of affairs where the yawning gap between the income of the haves and have nots gets bigger and bigger and bigger while the essential services, like health care and housing, get more and more expensive, leaving more and more people literally out in the cold and this has never been as obvious as in today’s pandemic climate. Our aversion to higher taxes has led to a failure to improve our crumbling infrastructure where bridges, tunnels and highways are in immediate care before they fall apart. And this aversion to higher taxes while leaving the country to be guided by special interests and big money, has resulted in a continuing climate crisis that will soon reach the point of no return, if it isn’t there yet.
The wealthy cringe at the word “socialism” because they can manage quite well without government involved in their lives while the rest of us have been brainwashed into believing the words of President Ronald Reagan, that darling of the conservative right wing, who said, “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” The former First Lady, Nancy Reagan, also famously also said “Just say no” to drugs and that has turned out really well.
Reagan was wrong. The problem isn’t big government, it’s the people who run big government and the people and companies that enable and control big government. A sea change in our society won’t come as long as the rich and powerful continue to fund political campaigns and demand that nothing will change that will effect their riches.
But as the pandemic shows, we are at a breaking point. The virus is literally killing us while our way of life is being obliterated for many of us. The gap widens, people get angry and they look for a savior so in comes a Trump and he feeds on the anger and divisiveness while more and more grow hungrier and hungrier.
It’s a time for dialogue about what is the best direction for the country and for my money, taking a close look at Denmark is a very good starting point.