By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
What if I haven’t been nearly cynical and paranoid enough?
I’m going to hurl myself into the void on this one, partly because I’m still feeling the effects of the full moon, partly because the shortening days are really starting to get to me, but mostly because I don’t know the answers to the questions I’m going to raise. So please forgive the rambling, and the almost complete lack of linky goodness. Also too, it would be irresponsible not to speculate!
One of the pervasive tropes that factions in the political class have propagated in the “left”-leaning discourse of the present moment is that the Republicans/Tea Party/conservatives are reactionary and backward-looking, that they want a future where the United States has returned to an inferior past, like the Gilded Age, or even the antebellum South. There’s even a whole cluster of tropes that conservatives like say Wisconsin’s Scott Walker or Alberta’s Ron Harper are really seeking secession and the restoration of the Confederacy. (OK, I made up the part about Harper.) Never mind the teleology implicit in that view, also implicit in the concept “progressive” (progress toward what, one might ask). But for the sake of the argument let’s accept it. But do we ever consider the notion that the Democrats/”progressives”/liberals also have a future in mind for us, forward-looking but just as horrific in its own way as a future that’s backward-looking? I don’t think we do, and in this post I would like to fight my way towards doing so.
Consider ObamaCare. What is Obama’s essential architecture:
- A market set up by the State (ObamaCare’s “marketplace”)
- In which citizens must purchase a product (the mandate to purchase health insurance)
- From private rent extracting entities (the insurers).
And why? Why pick that architecture? Shorter: Because The Market. In longer form: Given the proven success of other models worldwide — whether centrist, like single payer, or left, like a national health service — the choice of this market-based solution can only have been ideological; indeed, the touching faith in The Market shared by the legacy parties and the political class in general is quasi-religious in nature, and the mandate is equivalent to conversion by the sword. (The good faith conservative critique of ObamaCare, abandoned for whatever reason in favor of frothing and stamping about “Jawbs!”, rate shocks, and The Collapse Of Civilization As We — and most definitely “we” — Knew It, was that people shouldn’t be forced to enter a market because liberty.) Note that there’s plenty of reason to think, even accepting the moral primacy of markets, to think that ObamaCare won’t be able to structure a particularly good market, if the welfare of the citizens/consumers forced into it is a concern. First, Choice, handmaiden of The Market, has been shown to create anxiety and depression; too many choices make people just as unhappy as too few. Second, there’s no real reason to think that ObamaCare’s market won’t be just as much of a lemon market as the market or private health insurance. Indeed, one might make the case that ObamaCare has nothing to do with health care at all: ObamaCare makes no pretense of being universal, or “bending the cost curve,” or improving health outcomes (although it may do so, its advocates are notably reluctant to make that claim).
So, if we accept the radical claim that ObamaCare isn’t about health care then what on earth is it about? Let’s return to the architecture above, and imagine a 2021 “progressive” program called, oh, HillSecurity (or MittSecurity, or CorySecurity). This program would “save Social Security” and it would look like this:
- A market set up by the State (HillSecurity’s “marketplace”)
- In which citizens must purchase a product (the mandate to invest in a personal retirement account via a payroll tax and, possibly, additional contributions)
- From private rent extracting entities (large financial firms).
But where is “Social Security,” you ask, in 2021? Well, it’s a “public option” in the HillSecurity Marketplace, just as, in 2017, Medicare became a “public option” in ObamaCare’s marketplace.
Because think about it, liberals: If you accept that the delivery of health insurance should be structured like ObamaCare, is there any reason to deny that Social Security should be? Or any other government service for which a “marketplace” can be structured? (Police? Fire? Parks? So-called “public” transportation? Why not tax collection, in a happy troilism with debt collection and repo?)
One of the happier features of the radical claim that ObamaCare is a model for other rental extraction systems yet to be built, is that it explains why what seems to be a misfeature of the ObamaCare Federal Exchange is in fact a feature. Many have been puzzled by the Federal Exchange site designer’s decision (that is, by the White House’s decision) to put an extremely onerous registration process first, before “shopping” and price comparison can even begin. After all, purchasing insurance on Exchanges was supposed to be like purchasing an airline ticket online, and Expedia doesn’t force you to register before comparing prices for flights. And Best Buy doesn’t demand to see your ID before you look at their flat screen TVs.
But suppose that the Exchange put registration first because it’s most important? After all, if one wished to roll out rental extraction marketplaces for many government services, the first requirement is to be able to uniquely and accurately identify
citizens consumers in all their transactions, in order to ensure not only payment, but compliance with all the other rules of the marketplace. And ObamaCare supplies that infrastructural requirement: It is quite rigorous — worse than Apple — in its demands for identifying information, demanding not only a valid email address — what other government program does that? — but rejecting applications and demanding paper confirmation whenever the consumer reporting agency to which name and address confirmation has been outsourced throws a flag.
So, that’s the claim, right or wrong: ObamaCare’s “marketplace” architecture puts citizens at the mercy of rental extractors in marketplaces, and can be built out into the delivery of many other government services, especially Social Security; and that ObamaCare puts a key piece of infrastructure in place for that process: A single unique and computer-discoverable transactional identity for every
citizen consumer that can be used to enforce compliance with whichever rental extraction regimes the citizen consumer has signed up for.
Well, as I said, pure speculation. Tin foil hat time! And what’s that high-pitched warbling sound? But if I am right, it seems to me that a “progressive” future where the chief duty of a citizen is to “choose” to bend the knee to one or another mandated rentier is every bit as horrific, in its own way, as a “reactionary” future of deference to slaveholders or feudal lords. Perhaps the “progressive” vision is a little more subtle. But is it any less brutal? Surely there is some other way?
NOTE  But not, say, an edible forest as described in 1491.
NOTE  Modulo, possibly, co-operatives.
NOTE  The touted wellness programs are, if perhaps not scams, certainly not evidence based.
NOTE  Or Obama, for that matter, unless we factor in the Presidential Library doubtless to be paid for by a very select segment of a grateful populace.
NOTE  Naturally, Medicare and Social Security will have been crippled, to provide a “level playing field” that avoids “unfair competition” with private entities.
NOTE  For example, smokers can be charged higher premiums under ObamaCare, which is an incentive to cheat when answering that question. However, given sufficient information, that answer could be cross-checked (say, by a consumer reporting agency that had access to purchase records). And there’s no particular reason that this logic should be restricted to smoking. Why not, in President Bloomberg’s world, soda? Of course, the integration of consumer data with EHRs will never happen. That would be science fiction stuff.
NOTE  As a glorious bonus, ObamaCare forces
citizens consumers to spend hours cleaning up bad data that the credit reporting agencies own and rent — for free!