I have no problems with Blacks and Latinos wanting to reduce the power the of the state over our lives. There is, after all, something to be said for the anarchist vision of a state-less society. My problems are with the here and now. Since so many minorities are poor, marginalized, and oppressed we have to think twice before we push aside the power of the state as a potential partner against greedy landlords, abusive profit-first employers, companies that produce toxic environments in which we live and work, and political leaders who are more interested in listening to the very powerful and rich. Whatever intrusions by the state into my life pales in comparison to the intrusions of publicly unaccountable corporations into how I live and what I can do. In short, it is shortsighted and self-destructive to surrender the power of the state to the very rich and powerful simply because of unfounded fears that the state is “too much in our lives.” If anyone is manipulating the Tea Party Movement, I suspect it is those with power and wealth who are afraid that too many of us without power or wealth will turn to the state to try to equalize the playing field.
The way I see it, the State is a monster. Always has been and always will be. It has the right to take a person’s life, liberty, or property. Hobbes called it a Leviathan for that reason. However, it is a monster that, ultimately, the people create by giving it legitimacy. Now that we have this monster running around, taking and intruding, protecting and assaulting, there is really only one question. Do we want it to do these things to benefit those who already have power and wealth? Or, is there a way to make use of the monstrous power of the state to benefit the average citizen? The latter is usually what democracy is supposed to accomplish.
I think the founders wanted both. They wanted to create a monster (the state) to do things that are hard to do with the private power of individuals alone as well as to incapacitate the state, limit it, so that it doesn’t abuse its powers. That is the unspoken contract behind the founding of this country. It is for that reason that Tea Party complaints about government intrusions, especially with the health care reforms are wrong. If the state does not put its hands on the health care system, we will be left with a market-based system that is twice as expensive as what almost every advance country already has and for far less health care benefit (we have a lower life expectancy than any other advance and some not so advanced countries). Latinos and African Americans have the most to fear from an unregulated health insurance market. More than 47 percent of all Latinos and 33 percent of African Americans are uninsured at any given part of the year.
There are some things best left to the market (restaurants cuisine, music players, car design, etc.) and some things that only the state can do (health care, national defense, mail delivery, public education, etc.). Where was the Tea Party movement when President Bush violated constitutional rights to privacy, habeas corpus, truth, etc.?
One telling example of the power of corporations in the private life of citizens was the recent decision by Walgreens Inc. in Washington State to stop accepting new Medicaid pharmacy patients because, it claimed, that it could not “break even” with the current reimbursement rates established by the government for the vast majority of drugs. Washington State expects to save $10 million dollars a year as a result of their new lower drug reimbursement rate. Walgreens response to these changes is expected. They complained that they are losing money and may go out of business. They threatened to pull the plug on new Medicaid patients. All of this demonstrates how a private corporation can have significant, unaccountable, and, sometimes, disastrous impact on citizens. Patients can always take their business to another pharmacy. That is the beauty of capitalism. What if there are few other pharmacies because the large chain pharmacies have squeezed out the smaller competition?
The bigger problem is that it is very difficult for a consumer to know how to protect themselves and retain benefits. Walgreens says nothing about how inflated drug prices are in this country because of the policies of the pharmaceutical industry. It says nothing about how wholesale drug prices are established by private companies like McKesson Inc. and FirstDataBank that artificially inflated the benchmark prices used by insurance companies to reimburse consumers for their medication. Those companies settled a federal lawsuit in 2009 by handing over $350 million in penalties. They had set artificially high drug prices of 20 to 25 percent over actual cost. How in heavens are average and rational consumers ever going to be able to remain informed enough to ward off the predatory actions of so many corporations intent on eliminating competitors and squeezing as much profit from the public as they can? Even if information was readily available and up to date, consumers often have little choice but to depend on and make use of company services and products that often have no interest in protecting the public welfare. The top ten drug store companies now account for 66 percent of all drug sales.
Last year’s collapse of Wall Street firms shows that the pharmaceutical industry is not the only market sector we should be wary. The market place’s openness and private control make efficiencies, innovation, and wealth possible. They also permit behind the scenes anti-competitive schemes, deceptive accounting practices, or purposely impenetrable financial instruments create a very dense veil behind which hide market actors hide their profitable yet predatory, destructive, and costly practices. In their rage against the state and government’s “over reach” into our lives, the Tea Party Movement seems determined to expose all of us to the ravishes of the private market place. Not only would they do away with the federal income tax, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, they would also abolish the Federal Reserve, and encourage states to “nullify” most federal laws and regulations. The push has already begun with states that have passed or intend to pass legislation to prevent the mandated purchase of health insurance within their territory. The Tea Party Movement would have us shed whatever defenses we have acquired over the years to protect ourselves from the irrationality and abuses of the marketplace. As President Obama said at the meeting he held with Republican lawmakers,
We could set up a system where food was cheaper than it is right now if we just eliminated meat inspectors, and we eliminated any regulations on how food is distributed and how it’s stored. I’ll bet in terms of drug prices we would definitely reduce prescription drug prices if we didn’t have a drug administration that makes sure that we test the drugs so that they don’t kill us, but we don’t do that.
We could have cheaper food if we eliminated government meat inspectors, but how many of us would want to live with the illnesses and death that a totally unregulated market is likely to deliver?