THE PLANK NOVEMBER 11, 2009
I got an email from an old friend, Joel Parker, who is an international vice president of the Transportation Communications Union, and one of the smartest people I know. It's a response to my article on anti-Statism in America that has been on the site today. I am reproducing it for its criticisms rather than its compliments, which bear not only on what I wrote but also on our continuing discussion of the health care bill.
Just read your latest TNR piece on anti-government sentiment. I thought it was excellent, and agreed with its central point. But I do think there’s a danger of reductionism--seeing attitudes and positions through the prism only of attitudes toward government. I don’t think you do that, but I see it a lot on the left. My own view is that the middle class opposition, or if that’s too strong, fear of the health care bills have more to do with classic “what’s in it for me” analyses. Supporters of the Senate bill have a hard time explaining how it’s not simply a transfer of benefits from people with good plans, including all manufacturing and construction union plans, and seniors who use Medicare advantage, to the uninsured--read, the poor. Add to that legitimate fear about the deficit, and no plausible prospect of reduced premiums.
The Senate theory is clearly that the way to reduce costs is to have people cut back on use. Apparently they believe there’s all these folks who just love going to the doctor because their insurance covers it. On the House version, most people like the specific benefit improvements--preexisting conditions, elimination of lifetime maximums--but beyond that people are hard pressed to say what’s in it for them, unless they’re uninsured and entitled to a subsidy. Usually I fall squarely in the incrementalist camp--some change is better than none. But what I see so far is shaping up to be a disaster. I suggested to some progressive Congressmen they should just bring up standalone anti-insurance company bills, and change the political debate. They liked the idea, but don’t want to undermine Obama. The truth is that unless you take the profit out of the mix, the only possible cost containment is cutting benefits. Goodbye 2012.
On financial regulation, I think most folks just don’t understand it--as you said, they support compensation limits; they support closing offshore tax loopholes; but here the Democratic elites have already abandoned meaningful reform (it’s hard not to see them as wedded to the Wall Street funding base.) But where I differ the most is in your analysis on climate change. I don’t see that as a barometer one way or another of pro- or anti-government sentiment. Rather, I think it’s straight economics--at a time of gaping unemployment, opponents focus on job impacts. Here the labor leadership is totally out of touch with the rank and file, who are still trying to figure out what the fuck a green job is. A windmill made in China? The one computer technician it takes to service a 100-windmill combine? The companies you cite as supportive are all non-manufacturing. Coal is one of the few domestic industries--rail, utilities, millions of jobs.
I’m back with what you wrote not too long ago--it’s jobs, and no one has a viable answer.