Saturday, January 30, 2010

Data Visualization on US Health Care Expenses and The People's Health Reform

Over at their blog, National Geographic has this graph up, comparing per capita health care expense (left side) to life expectancy (right side):

Note, as well, that the thickness of a line indicates the number of annual visits to a doctor, per capita. There are many systems that spend much less, where people have much greater access to health care, and out perform our system.

When one sees information like this, it's hard, if not impossible, to be utterly frustrated with the ridiculousness of the past six months of congressional wrangling over providing even the most minimal of public health care protections. And, unlike some, I don't see this as a failure of just the Democratic Party (though their part in this is huge), the White House, or even the Republicans whose job it is to represent the interests of Capital. It's also a total failure of the American people who lack the capacity, it seems, to institutionalize their supposed generosity of spirit. And that, I think, is because that generosity of spirit rarely reaches beyond clan, with noted exceptions of disparate individual acts of charity that have no capacity to remake deep, structural problems. That whole dynamic reminds me of the operation of politeness in Southern culture-- it masks a deep, dark violence.

This incapacity for social contractual generosity has long made me skeptical of "the People" as some sort of un-variegated mass standing in contradistinction to the halls of power. The People are too often dupes of those masters, or willing accomplices. In a comment on Howard Zinn's recent passing, Werner Herzog's Bear, on his blog I Used to Be Disgusted, Now I Try to Be Amused, remarked that,
Yet with his passing, we ought to confront a great fallacy in his writing which is being proven with every passing day. Namely, Zinn spoke of this amorphous "people" in his book that was always the victim, not perpetrator of America's crimes. This despite the "people's" historical enthusiasm for American imperialism, red baiting, and racist violence. When I see the tea bagger rallies with their hateful depictions of the president and insane talk of secession and conspiracy, I can't help but think, regardless of their "astro-turf" nature, that these people are indeed part of "the people" just as much as the massive crowds that turned out for president Obama's inauguration.

As we mourn Zinn's passing, we ought to admire his determination to gain a more critical and truthful picture of American history, but take that one step further and acknowledge that we have seen the enemy, and the enemy is us.

it's easy to suggest that the battle for healthcare since the Clinton Administration has simply pitted insurance, pharmaceutical, and hospital industries against the people, but I think that's too simplistic, because "the people," particularly those in the street, haven't been clamoring in a voice united for healthcare as a human right, and as a lynchpin of human dignity.

Then again, now that the SCOTUS has granted personhood to corporations, I guess a People's History of the healthcare debate would look much different, wouldn't it?