A middle-aged man dreaming of the day when he can stop begging for scraps and write for a living.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Criteria For Public Ownership Of Industry

The public option for health care keeps coming back to haunt us and we have private health insurance to thank for it. Back in 2009 when the Affordable Care Act was passed without a public option it was assumed that the issue was dead for another generation, but naturally we underestimated the obstinence of Republican opposition to any government program that might stand a chance to help people. "Obamacare" works...but only where it's allowed to work. So here we are seven years later right back where we started.

Oh noes!Naturally, the right-wing media is freaking out. They're trotting out all the old favorites, accusations of "government overreach" and "socialism" and the like which prompts a discussion about capitalism and government ownership of industry. Sadly, the Soviet Union demonstrated that it is possible to have too much control, but we've seen over and over again here in the US what happens when you don't have enough. Clearly we need to strike a balance which means we're going to need to come up with some criteria on which industries ought to be public domain and which ones should be run by private interests. To get the ball rolling I came up with three:

1. Is it an obvious need?

This ought to be a no-brainer, but we're Americans and by the gods we'll defend the right to be stupid no matter the cost! But I digress. Charging people for things they can't do without creates a captive market, ripe for abuse. I have no problem with recouping costs, but such industries shouldn't be treated as profit ventures the way health care is today. We have an entire industry that bases its profit model off the suffering of our fellow human beings. How is this moral, especially when we have proven alternatives that work better? Elaborate disinformation campaigns insist that capitalism is the only way to be efficient and government-run health care creates "death panels" but when put under scrutiny we find it's the other way around.

2. Is there an obvious reason why the government shouldn't be allowed to participate?

It doesn't make sense for the federal government to take over production of bath toys. There's no compelling need for it unlike, for example, power and communications. While the government has a vested interest in regulating the production of bath toys to make sure they're safe for the public, toys aren't a necessary commodity so it can benefit from competition without too much concern about oligarchic collusion. If bath toy manufacturers get together and decide to artificially inflate prices to increase their profit margins, consumers can opt not to buy them without significant risk. The same cannot be said for critical pharmaceutical products.

3. Is research or delivery hampered by profit margins?

Pony ExpressTelecommunications haven't been making very big strides in the last decade. The core technology is decades old and at this point we're seeing diminishing returns. If anything, current business models are looking to eke the most money out of the least service, and delivery has been stymied in areas where there's simply no profit to be found to establish infrastructure. However, that doesn't mean the need isn't there. This is why we have public as well as private mail service, because private delivery companies don't like going out to remote locations. Clearly, there's room for both to co-exist.

I'm sure there's more but that's all I can think of off the top of my head. Can you think of more?