Saturday, August 08, 2009

What Amount of "Suffering" is Tolerable for Fellow Citizens?

Scot McKnight highlighted an article by Thomas Sowell called Utopia Versus Freedom. Interesting stuff.

In President Obama's desire (and that of the liberal mindset) to help alleviate suffering and extend assistance to the needy, are they crossing the line when it comes to our individual life, liberty and pursuit of happiness? As a Christian and a pastor, I'm motivated to help alleviate suffering and extend assistance to the needy - and I'm glad to have the government be part of that work. The church and the government, as well as corporations and restaurants and neighborhood associations and local business entities should all be part of the work to help those in need.

But to what degree should the government mandate change that results in more taxes, more bureaucracy, more national debt, more inefficiency, more restrictions, more problems for those who will bear the burden of "helping" those in need. I want every American to have adequate health insurance coverage every day of their life. But is it realistic? Is it feasible? Is it viable? Can it be done without a heavy dose of government oversight and government management? I would hope so.

I think it is good of President Obama to push the conversation out into the open about affordable, adequate health care for every American - especially for children. But the answer does not lie in more government bureaucracy. The answer ought to be centered on politicians (both the fear-mongering right and the liberty-reducing left) to work hard to influence all their big fat corporate donors to change how they do business. Politicians ought to actually lead (aka influence) the ones who paid for their political career and leverage their position to get certain industries moving in a better direction.

It's a big problem - our health coverage situation. But the answer lies in many small solutions. The government ought to be a small solution, not a big one in this crisis. Or else they'll make the crisis worse. And we'll have even less options for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.


Jonathan & Jody said...

Wow Tim. I agree with most of what you said. This can't be!

Tim Hallman said...

Well, you and I are both brilliant, so we were bound to agree sooner or later!

Aaron said...

Speaking as a Canadian, I have to say that one of the hallmarks of American thought (mostly right-leaning though patterns)is that Government cannot be a force for good.

This to me is a strange concept, speaking as a Canadian at least.

Be aware that in many parts of the world, this is not a starting premise, as it is in your post.

One of the illustrations of this I think might be is to recognize that people are people. We have bad motives, and good motives.

Government workers and Business workers are NO different.

Leaning on 'fat corporate donors' and expecting them to do business in a fairer way is as pie-in-the-sky hopeful for me as perhaps it is for you to see government as a potential force of good.

Try this on for size - as broken as government may be, it can be fixed because it is by the people, for the people. It has redeemable potential.

Private corporations exist for one purpose - profit. Although there may be some noble CEOs out there, they still are responsible to their shareholders if they are a public company.

When profit and life mix, as in the case of healthcare, people die.
There is no end to stories of people having their healthcare cut off (see "The Rain Maker" - John Grisham movie - good one) to get a taste of the reality.

If we can remove profit motive from the equation, as only government can, then people can be treated more fairly.

And if we can imagine a transparent, open, and accountable government, one that we CAN work towards (unlike the reformation of every company on the planet, which is out of our control in some sense (simplified at least)....

well, the story gets better. There is hope.

As a Canadian, I trust my government to make good decisions that give me the ability to access free, universal healthcare - available to EVERY citizen - any time of day or night - with no bill.

It is possible.


Tim Hallman said...


I'm with you on the idea that government can be a force for good. And to the degree that good people can involved in government, more good can be done for the country. But power can corrupt, and the more entrenched power becomes, the more corruption ensues to keep that power. And so with the health-care system, if too much power is given to the government, too much corruption will seep into the system. But if there is no government involvement, corrupt corporations will do what they are doing now.
And this is an article about the imploding Canadian health care system. Both American and Canadian health-care systems need to improve the roles of private and public options. I'm sure if more good citizens got involved in an informed manner, more informed, good decisions would occur. But will those people step up? Will I?

Aaron said...

Hi Tim,

Thanks for responding. What you have to realize is that entrenched forces are at work, and it is no different in the Canadian context.

The article you quote is referencing a meeting from the CMA (Canadian Medial Association). They advocate for doctors to make more money. See the conflict?

We've had private doctors providing services to our population for over 40 years and been able to do this successfully and with excellent health outcomes (our life expectancies in Canada are longer than in the US) and at lower cost than the US pays per capita.

Can there be improvements? You bet.

What the US needs is to save money (they blow more money on your healthcare system than most, with worse outcomes than most).

A public good approach is probably the right mindset, and a good one for a Christian to start with.

A quote from one of my favorite organizations, Citizens for Public Justice, says it this way :

"It is often said that the nature of a society is revealed in how the most vulnerable of its members are treated. A country’s health care system offers a good reflection of how a society treats its weakest members. Public justice calls us to care for the vulnerable and marginalized in our society and question barriers that prevent people from having equal access to their basic needs."

I guess my question to you is - how do we best do this as a society? Is it efficient and possible to depend on charity to do this?

Is it possible to depend on private solutions alone to do this, when a profit motive is the sole driver?

As you mentioned, a mix is possible. What parts of the public option are you supporting, and how?



Tim Hallman said...


Ack! Stop making me think so much! :)

A friend of mine posted a note the other day wondering why so many Christians and Americans are opposed to the public option.

The argument goes two ways:
1) the church ought to be caring for the poor/sick, thus the government is intruding on our turf. The government should pull back and let the church be the church.
2) the government is too bureaucratic to effectively run a public option; it will either lead to more waste or more inefficiency.

I'd have to say that on a basic level, I'm not opposed to the government sponsoring a public option, as long as private ones are allowed to exist as well. It is often the government's role to break up monopolies, to undermine entrenched interests, and limit corruption. But with the cynicism that exists towards the government these days, it's hard to believe that the public option will be successful (rather it will be subverted...).

Which leads me to the next question: what can I do about all this? Is there some way to get involved and make a difference?

Greg said...


This is a good discussion, thanks.

I am currently serving on a United Methodist committee writing a recommendation with regards to immigration specifically illegal immigration in the us.

To add to the problem of health care, starting at the first of the year, the discussion on immigration which includes legalization, border protection, work visas, and heath care will be put on the table. This adds a new aspect to the health care issue. The cost of health care if regulated and available to all people needs to consider the millions of illegal immigrants currently in our country.

Aaron said...

Tim, thanks for sharing those two main arguments for Christians that are opposed to the public option - and I appreciate you stating those to me, because, as I stated before, those starting points are almost alien to me in the Canadian context.

In Canada, as I discussed, we see public healthcare working well. Not perfect, but well.

I think where you have to start, and where most Christians need to start is to challenge those assumptions and check the validity as opposed to assuming anything.

Break down the problem as such:
re: point 1) the church ought to be caring for the poor/sick. this is church role, on our turf.

I think this needs to be thought through the perspective of "what is the goal of the church, the Kingdom of God and is there overlap with society and government's goals".

I think this is easily taken care of by Jesus' statement in John's gospel: "‘Master,’ said John, ‘we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him because he is not one of us.’ ‘Do not stop him,’ Jesus said, ‘for whoever is not against you is for you’" (Luke 9:49-50).

If we think that part of the role of church is healing, then if the government wants to get in that business, lets support them! From an economies of scale perspective, the bigger you do this, the more people you can get well at a cheaper price. That's the theory, and in many countries around the world this has been proven.

Not having to deal with physical aliments means that the church can focus on spiritual and social support.

Sojourners magazine and Jim Wallis deal with this point as well, in a better way than I can in this short space, so I'll just refer you a link to him, and you can make your own mind up with respect to what the church's/government's role is in healthcare.

As to the second point which also needs to be studied and researched by a serious person like yourself

2) the government is too bureaucratic to effectively run a public option; it will either lead to more waste or more inefficiency.

I guess the question boils down to this. Private Healthcare Insurers need to take 30% profit off the top of everything they touch. Can government provide similar results with less than 30% inefficency to make up for the difference?

And the final, biggest question is : isn't it morally required for us as Christians to ask HOW do we help (as you do!) when people are hurting how we can help?

My answer after running through all of this is to support public healthcare with my $$$'s by supporting candidates financially that run for elections and pressure elected officials with letters and phone calls to ensure that healthcare remains publicly accessible and free for ALL our citizens.

Don't complicate things with mixing issues (immegration & healthcare).

Understand where you come out on the big topics and then you can use that to drive your thought processes downwards and through the next items.

And know that there are many Christians who come out on different sides of this, and that's OK too, as long as we keep talking!

Thanks for the fun conversation,


Aaron said...

wondering what you think of this video - comments?