Friday, August 19, 2005

Is This How We Should See Ourselves?

For whatever reason I didn't get around to reading Europe vs. America by Tony Judt in the Feb 2005 New York Review of Books. It wasn't that I didn't see it sitting there amongst the other articles that I had collected to eventually read, it was just that for some reason it didn't pull me in, I wasn't interested. Well I guilted myself into printing it out a few days ago, effectively forcing me to read it - wow, some thought provoking stuff there. Let me share some of the tidbits that caused me to nod my head and wonder:

Back in 1980 the average American chief executive earned forty times the average manufacturing employee. For the top tier of American CEOs, the ratio is now 475:1 and would be vastly greater if assets, not income, were taken into account. By way of comparison, the ratio in Britain is 24:1, in France 15:1, in Sweden 13:1.

Really, how is that someone who made it through business or law school (sometimes, though rarely it seems anymore, it may be an engineering grad) is entitled to such exorbitant compensation for doing what the rest of us do for so much less? How does this make sense? I mean 475 times MORE? Are they actually doing that much more work? Do they really bring THAT much more value to what they do? I sort of understand it for someone who founded the
company and now wants to reap the riches of his or her hard work and sacrifice, but that's by and large not what we're talking about here. What's really crazy are the number of people walking around out there who think that they, too, can make that kind of money if only they just work hard enough - yes, and they're just as likely to be drafted by the Lakers.

A privileged minority has access to the best medical treatment in the world. But 45 million Americans have no health insurance at all (of the world's developed countries only the US and South Africa offer no universal medical coverage). According to the World Health Organization the United States is number one in health spending per capitaand thirty-seventh in the quality of its service [Underlining and italics are blogger's emphasis .]

How in God's name can we possibly excuse this? We spend more than anyone else but we're 37th in quality of service - where did this train fall off the track and down into a ravine? I don't get it, but that's not the throat grabber, no that follows:

... Americans live shorter lives than West Europeans. Their children are more likely to die in infancy: the US ranks twenty-sixth among industrial nations in infant mortality, with a rate double that of Sweden, higher than Slovenia's, and only just ahead of Lithuania's—and this despite spending 15 percent of US gross domestic product on "health care" (much of it siphoned off in the administrative costs of for-profit private networks). Sweden, by contrast, devotes just 8 percent of its GDP to health.

So if your kid is living in Slovenia she/he would get better healthcare, and they'd only be doing slightly better than the kid from Lithuania. Wow, I mean if you aren't startled by this, if you aren't stunned really, then stop reading as you'll think I'm a raving lunatic who needs to chill out if you keep with this. Now mind you the statistics here are not as clearcut as they would seem to be as my guess is that on the whole those who are better off in this country do far better than anyone in Slovenia, and the same can be said for their progeny. Here we factor in all the people who don't have healthcare coverage, who don't get to a doctor until they're in medical extremis, and there are far more of them than there should be and it's them, the bastards, who skew the number for the rest of us, embarrass us by making us look worse than Slovenia!!! They should be shot!!! Whooooa ... hold on, I think I lost perspective here, these factoids are throwing off my analytical and sense-of-fairness processing centers.

The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights promises the "right to parental leave following the birth or adoption of a child" and every West European country provides salary support during that leave. In Sweden women get sixty-four weeks off and two thirds of their wages. Even Portugal guarantees maternity leave for three months on 100 percent salary. The US federal government guarantees nothing. In the words of Valgard Haugland, Norway's Christian Democratic minister for children and family: "Americans like to talk about family values. We have decided to do more than talk; we use our tax revenues to pay for family values."

I love that last line, I mean it's totally precious. We love to talk about family values, we're just not willing to pay for them - yep, that sounds about right. We won't hesitate to guilt you for not being able to pay for your own family values, and if you're hard off and can't afford those family values we might send you to a faith-based non-profit who'll help you help yourself to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, and in the process bring you closer to Jesus (why isn't it ever Buddha, or Vishnu, or Mohammad, or ... well, you get the idea.) We routinely don't give sufficient leave to parents to take care of new born children, and in companies like WalMart and Sam's the healthcare coverage is so expensive that it dissuades the rank and file worker from even applying for it, they're too quickly using up their salary to pay for putting food on the table and clothes on the backs of themselves and their kids. Yep, you and your family are valuable in this country, for sure.

I'm not saying this applies to everyone, most certainly it doesn't. It doesn't apply to me or my family, we like it here on the whole, we're treated well, and I have time to do things like blog. But the reality is that there are many people in this country who are indeed treated this way, and most of us know someone like this or at one point in their lives were such a someone. Frankly in a country such as this we shouldn't be falling to second place in the health of any of our children to any country, much less one that most people can't even find on a map.

To a great degree we seem to be kidding ourselves about how well we're doing in this country and how much better it is than all the many others. The fact is that people in first world countries, and based on what we see in Slovenia some not first world countries, are treated far better by their society's than we are here. Here we have a sense of taking care of ourselves and ours and, on the whole, screw the other guy, he or she was either too lazy, too stupid, or too something to get what many of us take for granted and that's not our problem. The fact is that there should be things that are just a given in any first world society, universal and adequate healthcare, universal and standardized education, and a safety net to catch people who hit a road bump in their travels through life - I'm not talking about subsidizing someone for the rest of their lives, just till they are able to get on their feet and we make sure that their kids are adequately taken care of regardless. A new child should be given time with its parents, and family values should be something more than a catch phrase to bludgeon single mothers with. This can be a better country than it is, far more user-friendly surely, but too many of us are caught up in ourselves, or something that maybe I'm not quite putting my finger on, and it results in a place that affords many opportunities for the denizens who started there and
those who came along at some other point in their lives, but in addition exacts a very dear price that makes the landscape to this society far harsher and mean than it should be.

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