Obamacare, Tax Cuts, Gold Teeth and the Boat Show

| October 13, 2010 | 1 Comment

How America’s “Culture Crisis” extends beyond the inner-city ER to  America’s suburbs and gated communities.

By now, I think it’s safe to say that virtually every American who both follows current events and has a Facebook account (at least every upper-middle-class white American) has seen and at least considered re-posting the op-ed letter to the editor from Starner Jones, MD written to the Clarion Ledger in Mississippi. It’s turned into quite the rallying cry for the 50% or so Americans who oppose “Obamacare”…

For those of you who haven’t, here it is, in it’s original AND viral forms.

In essence, it’s a patent condemnation of nationalized health programs, citing the apparent unwillingness of America’s poor, to control their spending in a manner consistent with a level that America’s middle class and upper-middle-class would qualify as worthy of supplemental assistance. We middle and upper-middle-class Americans have an incredible tendency to elevate ourselves to the level of ‘savior’ through the, if you work hard and play by the rules, we’ll help you out when you’re in a jam. The original letter from Dr. Jones reads, “Our nation’s health care crisis is not a shortage of quality hospitals, doctors or nurses. It is a culture crisis – culture in which it is perfectly acceptable to spend money on vices while refusing to take care of one’s self…”

So, as I watch our city crawl with boat show goers numbering in the tens of thousands, I wonder if, given the health of the overall U.S. Economy, there’s a fair comparison to be made between Dr. Jones’ ‘culture crisis’ of the working poor and what I term the ‘accountability crisis’ of the American elite. It’s an interesting comparison, given that the two economic groups represent similar portions of the overall U.S. economic spectrum. It’s a compelling comparison, given that the current poverty rate in America is 14.3% while the target ‘boat show demographic’, or households with over $100,000 in combined income, accounts for roughly 16% of the population.

Therefore, it’s safe to say that roughly 1 in 7 Americans makes less than enough to survive comfortably, to send their children to college, or to purchase their own version of a luxury good – health care. It’s also accurate to say that 1 in 7 Americans essentially makes enough to afford luxury purchases like boats, luxury cars, vacations and the like, while qualified necessities like college tuition and health care are virtual afterthoughts.

The above generalization is largely harmless on the surface – and certainly wouldn’t be portrayed as anything less than reality by the 1 in 7 Americans on top. We hear it all the time, “America is the land of opportunity. If you’re willing to work hard and take risks, you can live comfortably and achieve the ‘American Dream’.” Basically, it’s a, “I work hard, I make decent money, I deserve a boat, etc”, argument. But a closer look at the statistical data relating to each demographic as well as a study of bankruptcy data bears out a much more unsettling and completely ignored reality, instead pointing to a thesis as follows:

From 2006-2010, the ‘boat show demographic’ listed above has saved, spent and lived very much like the ‘working poor’ condemned by Dr. Jones and by the American elite at large.

A statement like that is sure to ruffle some feathers and moreover, be dismissed by the upper-middle class. But seriously, let’s look at some statistical support for that notion, examining the period from 2006-2010 – considered by most to be a protracted period of economic decline, the housing market collapse, mortgage and banking meltdown, etc:

  • Since 2006, there have been over 6 Million bankruptcy filings in the United States.
  • The average person to file for bankruptcy during this period was:
    • White, Female, Over 40, Employed with a High School education or above. (this sounds a lot like the typical demographic for a career health care professional or nurse)
    • The #1 reason cited by individuals filing for bankruptcy was, you guessed it, Mortgage or Credit Card Debt.  This is also known as, “buying things you can’t afford.”

Dr. Jones, and most of you who related to or even re-posted his letter, would like us to believe that our ‘culture crisis’ is responsible not just for the healthcare issues America faces, but the general economic hardships we face as a nation. In layman’s terms – the young woman with the gold teeth and the smoking problem, who was using medicaid to pay her doctor’s bills – is the reason we’re struggling as Americans – so our desire to provide assistance to her demographic is therefore mis-guided.

In reality, the crisis is the work of those who look a lot more like Dr. Jones than they do his patient. They don’t have gold teeth – but wear jewelry instead. They don’t smoke 3 packs a day – but enjoy a cigar on the golf course. They don’t spend money on pretzels and beer – but drink a bottle of wine at night while at dinner with friends. They don’t have tattoos – but have a bi-weekly appointment at the salon or spa. They complain about income tax increases – without seeing the irony that a tax break is no different than a welfare check for the well-off.

Hey America – these are your boat buyers, your luxury car drivers, your spenders. They’re also the people filing in court for the right to literally walk away from the significant financial commitments they made in the past – while pointing the finger at economic policy, taxes, or the working poor. The financial cost of these bankruptcy filings, both corporate and personal, has accounted for literally TRILLIONS of dollars in write-offs. Meanwhile, even the highest estimates for the cost of the ‘public option’ or ‘Obamacare’ come in at just around $1 Trillion over 10 years.

Essentially, white, educated, middle-class America managed to write-off 3-4 times the cost of public funded health care, in less than half the time.

When the working poor does it, it’s called irresponsible. But when the middle class does it, it’s called a global economic catastrophe. When the wealthy elite does it, it’s called a breakdown in fundamental economic policy or un-regulated capitalism run amok.

The biggest differences though, are in how each situation plays out for each demographic and who TRULY foots the bill.

  • When the working poor go broke, it’s true, government typically foots the bill and we get taxed to pick up the slack – but it’s a relatively small tab @ 44 million people x $20,000 = $880M
  • When the middle class citizens go broke, they declare bankruptcy, the attorneys get paid, the judges get paid, and corporate America, your 401k and the banks largely foot the bill. But this time, the tab is in the trillions.
  • When the wealthy elite go broke, government foots the bill, you get taxed for the bailout or corporate write-downs, the working poor lose their jobs. Again, the tab is in the trillions, but is compounded by unemployment and protracted periods of economic recession. Meanwhile, the executives responsible retire to Martha’s Vineyard.

So, the problem isn’t the ‘culture crisis’ of the working poor – but instead the ‘accountability crisis’ of the middle class, upper-middle class and wealthy elite in America; those who complain about health care and taxes while debating over the purchase of boats or vacations.

It’s time for us all to take a look in the mirror, to stop pointing our fingers, to work to re-establish accountability and responsibility. I’m not implying that the risk-taker, entrepreneur or business owner doesn’t deserve what he or she gets, but it doesn’t need to come at the expense of everyone else’s well being. For the most part, given the standard of living in America today relative to the standard of living during the Baby Boom Generation, we’re a generation of haves and have-mores, we don’t know what it’s like to truly have-not. We don’t know what it’s like to be a nation that creates things, even a nation that creates opportunity. We’ve always had it.

So, if nothing else, it’s irresponsible to condemn those who still represent the fabric of our working nation, while acting hypocritically and irresponsibly at the same time.

Let’s get back to work.


Category: OPINION

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