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Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Am I missing something? I have been reading the reports of the latest Tea Party Washington protest against health care reform. The language, both from protesters and from their Republican Party Congressional enablers, is over the top. This flawed and incremental bill is described as fascism, as socialism, as unconstitutional, as the end of American liberty. The protesters call for Nancy Pelosi to be tried for treason.

Is more going on than I realize? Are these protesters right to see the passage of this bill as a stake driven into the heart of conservatism? Is this really a step so far beyond Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security that armed rebellion is the only reasonable response by defenders of American capitalism? Are Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Barack Obama closet radicals?

God, I hope so.


Timmo said...

There is something the Left as a whole is missing -- a great opportunity. There is considerable popular anger with very legimitate sources behind the Tea Party Movement. For example, while millions of people become jobless and homeless, Washington bails out bankers instead of people. If this ferment is being mobilized by Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, and Sean Hannity, then it is because the Left has not said "If they're too big to fail, then they're too big to be private" or "Banks which affect us so much should be beholden to us" or even "Take over your workplace." Instead, leftists cowardly got behind Obama and the Democrats. For instance, the anti-war movement largely supported Obama, even though he doesn't take an anti-war position, and now it's even less potent than before.

Nelson Goodman said...

This may be a breach of blog-commenting etiquette, but I wanted to make a comment here about an earlier post (I've only just discovered your blog and am rapidly reading back-posts - I have been a huge admirer of yours for years, for, inter alia, In Defense, Moneybags, the Rawls work and critique of Elster).

My question: I'd love to follow up a bit on your post on surplus-product extraction under capitalism through surplus-value via exploitation. As you know, all sorts of interesting normative and positive claims lurk in there and if you'd be willing I'd love to ask some very specific questions in this regard (without, I promise, it escalating into the entire "Marx and justice" debate).

Robert Paul Wolff said...

NelsonGoodman [a pseudonym, surely], welcome to the blog. A brief biographical aside. In the Spring of 1951, as a Harvard Freshman just turned seventeen, I took a course called Logical Philosophy taught by a visitor. It was Nelson Goodman, whose book The Structure of Appearance, based on his dissertation, A Study in Qualities, was about to be published. The course was essentially the book.

By all means, let us have a back and forth on Marx. If it would be easier, we can do it by email [ ] although if we do it in the Comments of the blog, everyone csn read it. Fire away.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Timmo, I agree with your positions on various issues, but I am not sure I agree that left liberals missed opportunities. If nothing else, the health care saga has demonstrated how fragile the forces on the left are in the Congress. It has taken enormous skill and patience to assemble the coalitions that passed the House and Senate bills. Sadly, this is a country less progressive than any of us would like.

Don't write off the potency of the left. If health care reform passes, even in its present form, it will be a triumph of major proportions, on which future forces will build. It will be as big as Medicare, and almost as big as Social Security, which were, after all, the high water marks of Social Democracy in America. A propos Obama's embrace of the bipartisan consensus on foreign policy, see my earlier post on that subject. You are right, of course, but I see no hope at all for America to turn away from its Post WW II imperial posture.

Timmo said...

Even if health care reform passes and makes significant changes in care for the better, I think it would still be a mistake to think of it as a triumph for the Left. The rhetoric of Tea Party movement makes it sound like a public option would be a step away from capitalism and the liberty they claim capitalism gives us. This obscures the very important fact that the healthcare debate, like many others, is just an example of class war between capitalists.

One can compare the privatized U.S. healthcare system tot he nationalized healthcare available in the rest of the industrialized world, including Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, and the U.K, using the data and statistics provided by the World Health Organization on their website. What I found is that the total expenditure on health (private and public) per capita in the U.S. is 1.8 – 2.5 higher than these countries, yet the U.S. does not enjoy better standards of health! The U.S. suffers the highest mortality rates for infants, children under five, and adults between 15 and 60 years. Also, Americans lose more years of life to communicable diseases. Even without careful inspection, one can immediately point out a massive source of inefficiency – the parasitic and useless private insurance system.

The competing capitalist group here is just the manufacturing secton. A piece by David Brousell in Managing Automation explains that “Within the manufacturing industry, it is a well-known fact that U.S. manufacturers operate at a significant cost disadvantage compared with their global competitors… it has been clear for some time that the healthcare obligation, whose costs have continued to rise over time and will only get worse, has been a burden on industry.” Manufacturing doesn't want to bear the cost of healthcare any longer. So, the healthcare debate is a contest between competing capitalists, namely insurance and manufacturing, and it would be a mistake on our part if we thought it had something to do the erosion of capitalism.