I have been struggling for three days to swim back to the surface and breathe again. Since the monstrous health care bill reform passed on Sunday, furor and something approaching despair have made me numb and mute. As people begin actually reading the 2700 pages, bad news cascade after bad news. I have been looking for the silver lining and found only one: It looks like the portability of health insurance will become a fact. That’s good. It was intolerable that people stayed in jobs they hated and refrained from entrepreneurship because they were too afraid to lose their health coverage. I think that’s all.
The rest of it is a disaster for our future. Note that every other political defeat does not make me feel the way I do now. Alternance in power is a good thing. When the other guys get their way with something I don’t want, I figure it’s the price I pay for stable and peaceful government. Certainly, I don’t want to live in a country where the losers routinely stage coups or start revolutions.
I don’t like most of what I know is in the law. I fear what else is in there that I will only discover later. I am sure the cost of the programs the law creates will undermine severely our future economic development. I suspect hardly anyone one will benefit. Instead, the overall quality of health care will decline. Most of all, I am aggrieved by the process by which the law became law, against clearly expressed majorities of opinion. The process smells of fascism and of the twisted parliamentary (ostensibly legal) methods by which the Communist Party gained control of Czechoslovakia in 1948.
My near-despair is rooted in two stream of personal experience: First, I saw it coming because I have inside track information, not secret information, mind you. President Obama is a second-rate academic. I know such people well. I have known them for more than thirty years. Improvements in our national health care delivery system based on market mechanisms were never in the cards. Few academics except economists know much about the market. Hardly a handful has read Adam Smith. They learn early in their careers that the idea of a market is a tricky myth designed to deceive the great unwashed masses. Then, they never give is another thought.
Academics in general are both intellectually limited and presumptuous. They know what they know and they don’t know what they don’t know. Successful academics, the minority who play the scholarship game, often become cured in time of heir presumptuousness. Anonymous scholarly peer review takes care of it. There is nothing like seeing the work of several years trashed from three different sides by strangers, and realizing that they are mostly right, to teach you humility. Barack Obama never had this salutatory experience. He never published anything scholarly, even when he was superbly placed to do so. Barack Obama had never accomplished anything in his life until last Sunday. He knows less about markets than a good undergraduate with three economics courses under his belt. Naturally, he and his ilk can only think of bureaucratic, and therefore, coercive and wasteful solutions.
The second root of my near-despair is the also the deepest: I have been there before. In 1981, Francois Mitterand, the head of the Socialist Party was elected President of France. His election inaugurated fifteen years of French decline and missed growth. After a decade of brisk economic development under conservative leadership, the country slowed down to very little. Nothing increased except government employment. The country went from one kind of decline to another. Unemployment remained around 10% , much of it long term and very long term unemployment. A whole generation of young French people grew up without the notion that work is normal. The bulk of the French educational system dropped from fairly good to quite bad. (Nearly everyone agree it’s bad now.)
The most interesting aspects of French decline under socialist administration are almost intangible, difficult to describe. Fortunately, I can depict them a little, even if in subjective terms because I knew the country well before and after. (I was born and reared in France. I know the language perfectly. I have spent much time in my native country before and after the Mitterrand regnum. )The public mood and the mood of ordinary people in the street became universally sullen. Socialist rulers claimed they gave he French more security but they killed their joie de vivre. Even more curiously, the advent of Socialist Party rule coincided with a massive dying-off of French cultural creativity. Things have improved some in the Sarkozy years but if you had visited France ten years ago, you would have found a cultural desert. There was no painting except hackneyed, inferior copies of 100-year old Impressionists. There was little fiction and it comprised mostly thin dry near-stories, stuff I had to force myself to read because it was boring. During the period, the French motion pictures industry went from one of the most productive in the world (though behind the American and the Indian) to one that turned out one or two good movies in five years at best. Most strikingly, there was no music of any interest produced in France except that of immigrants from North Africa, rai. (Of course, I joked that the French had become so lazy that they let immigrant workers do not only the menial work and the manufacturing work but even their popular music work!) In the socialist period, the French acquired many so-called “rights” and they lost their taste for living.
What we are facing in this country is worse than anything the Socialists were able to dish out in France. Mitterand had to govern most of the time without a majority in parliament. He had to compose and compromise with political coalitions opposed to his programs. Also, the powers of a French Presidents are somewhat less broad than those of an American President.
I think I have lost the country to which I emigrated forty years ago. I am in mourning for the vigorous, creative, free America I loved. I have never hoped to be wrong more than I am today. I hope someone will write and point out the errors of my analogy.
Watch this blog for more analysis and for calls to action.