Better than Nothing?

Time magazine’s cover story last week was “Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us.” What it describes is how every sector of the so-called health care industry continues to fail miserably at preventing the continued rise in costs, soon to reach 20% of national income.

Despite the hoopla when Obamacare was being promoted and then passed into law, it’s in fact had no positive effect other that increasing the number of people covered—and guaranteeing income to insurance companies with the law’s individual mandate. You’ll recall that Barack Obama promoted his plan by saying that it would harness the genius of the market economy while he refused to allow it to compete with a single payer system.

The bright spot in this dismal picture is Medicare, which maintains low overhead, cost controls, and happy customers—despite numerous obstacles thrown in its way by Congress at the behest of the big medical players. This is the same Medicare that is the object of Barack Obama’s desire to impose economic austerity by raising the eligibility age to 67 from the current 65.

The author of the Time article, Steven Brill, quite sensibly suggests that in order to reduce budget deficits it makes much more sense to lower, not raise, the Medicare eligibility age to, say, 55 or even 50. It’s generally considered a bad idea—and if not outright bad, at least political lunacy.

Why is it that the good ideas of the political elite—good ideas like Obamacare and market solutions and austerity budgets—have such a bad effect on most of us? And why is it that what we think are good ideas such as Medicare for everybody are laughed out of court?

I recently read a criticism of cultural politics by the political scientist Adolph Reed—the title is “Django Unchained, or, The Help: How “Cultural Politics” Is Worse Than No Politics at All, and Why.” In it he includes the following: “the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force.” That’s from The German Ideology by Marx and Engels.

A New York Times article concludes that “[t]he system’s big stakeholders have lobbyists, are campaign contributors or are forces in their communities. They react to articles such as Mr. Brill’s, but really aren’t much worried. They are rich, powerful and protected.”

That accounts for the political power. What accounts for the intellectual power?

It is not reducible to politics—or at least not reducible to politics as what goes on with governments.

I’ll give you an example.

The CDC recently announced the emergence of a “nightmare” bacteria that is utterly resistant to any agent. The online resource GreenMedInfo asks in its article on the CDC’s announcement: “‘Nightmare Bacteria’ or Rude Intellectual Awakening?

Chemical-based medicine created this resistant strain of bacteria and now has nowhere to go. As I’m sure you’re aware, chemical-based medicine either ridicules or ignores traditional and nature-based medicine—except to the extent that it can extract a patentable substance. In contrast, research from Korea shows that “the root of the black raspberry plant contains polyphenols which are lethal to … MRSA … and … Anthrax.”

I’ll give you another example.

One of the bright spots in the Obama Administration is the National Institute of Environmental Health Science. Yet even they say that “in the age of cellular telephones, wireless routers, and portable GPS devices (all known sources of EMF radiation), concerns regarding a possible connection between EMFs and adverse health effects still persists, though current research continues to point to the same weak association.”

The “current research” they mention is a review article by authors who are industry researchers. One was even thrown off the WHO committee that found cell phone radiation to be a possible carcinogen. Not mentioned was another review article by leading researchers who didn’t get thrown off the WHO committee who concluded that the associations between exposures and health effects is quite strong.

Intellectual power can work by brute force, of course—burning books or even people with bad ideas—but more often it, like all other power, is exercised with some degree of subtlety. In its most insidious form, intellectual power literally captures the imagination of those it exploits—who should know better.

Obamacare and its ilk are failing and will continue to fail because they are intended to preserve the capitalist mode of production in health and medical care. The intellectual power of the dominant ideas in health don’t come from greed or evil or stupidity (although never doubt that they are there) but from false consciousness—ideas that convince you to do what is not in your best interest. So do something else—and stop waiting for your betters to do it for you.