Politics as Sport: The Naive Democracy of the U.S.

Social media provide one easily accessible version of the marketplace of ideas in the U.S. While still gated by some levels of privilege, social media platforms include a fairly wide range of people participating by both posting who they are and what they believe or viewing those posts.

Claimed political affiliations and support for political parties and candidates are often expressed through social media, but even more revealing are posts that people seem to believe are somehow not political but in fact expose the real politics beneath the rhetoric.

One of the most revealing and disturbing is the pattern of conservatives posting about socialism, communism, and (more rarely) Marxism—proving that they have no real idea what the terms mean but have embraced them as broad and clumsy slurs of an imagined (and oppressive) Left.

As I have explained several times, there is no real Left of consequences in the U.S., even in academia (where I have worked for almost two decades).

After posting The Market Fails Education yesterday, I followed up a discussion on Facebook with this: Republicans in the U.S. are market fundamentalists who are averse to publicly funded institutions, and Democrats are market-first, public tolerant.

A genuine political Left with power in the U.S. would be public-first and market tolerant, but this simply doesn’t exist within any real power structure in the country.

Market fundamentalism or market idealism drives a great deal of political discourse, ideology, and then policy in the U.S. In almost all real ways, the U.S. is a right-center country without a viable Left—even though many people beneath their market fundamentalism probably hold beliefs that would be better served by Left policies.

Although I mentioned it briefly in my discussion of education, I want to emphasize healthcare in the U.S. here.

Few people function in their market fundamentalism with a clear awareness that capitalism is an amoral system; in other words, the morality of capitalism is its internal consistency, fairly expressed as supply and demand.

A market exists and flourishes if it can maintain demand from the supply; if the demand disappears, so does that market. In both cases, capitalism morality is fulfilled as right or good.

Ideologies on the Left, however, are moral systems that reject waiting for the Invisible Hand to work, or not, to address fundamental human needs; for the Left, then, the collective power of government (best created through the will of the people, such as in a democracy) can and should make certain outcomes happen directly—such as provide universal public education, create and maintain a transportation infrastructure (roads and highways in the U.S., but public transportation as well), maintain a judicial system and a military, etc.

For the Left, foundational publicly funded institutions must be created and maintained so that the less urgent and less dependable market can function as well as possible. A robust foundation of public institutions makes the struggle between Playstation and Xbox not only possible but robust as well.

Sick and overworked (or destitute) people are not free to participate in the consumerism of leisure time.

Here is the great irony of the naive democracy that is the U.S.; the right-leaning social media postings are by people who equate individual freedom with their conservative ideology, misreading the Left as oppressive (the slur of “communism”) while ignoring their own lack of freedom due to the demands of the workforce that denies workers power and has reduced the worker to a mere interchangeable and disposable cog.

Right-to-work laws have been expanding, with unions decreasing, as the workspace becomes more part-time gigs than careers.

Market fundamentalism has created the necessity that all people work by linking both healthcare and retirement to that employment in reduced and barely sustainable ways to further shackle every worker to their employment, stripping those workers of freedom.

People in the U.S. must work to have healthcare, must pay an insurance premium (deducted from their checks in a sort of invisible way) and then fund deductibles for initial care, and often avoid using their sick days or medical care due to fear of losing those jobs.

And all of this works inside a market system of healthcare that is incredibly inefficient but also amoral. For example, the U.S. system has been compared in terms of administrative cost to single-payer in Canada:

Measurements: Insurance overhead; administrative expenditures of hospitals, physicians, nursing homes, home care agencies, and hospices.

Results: U.S. insurers and providers spent $812 billion on administration, amounting to $2497 per capita (34.2% of national health expenditures) versus $551 per capita (17.0%) in Canada: $844 versus $146 on insurers’ overhead; $933 versus $196 for hospital administration; $255 versus $123 for nursing home, home care, and hospice administration; and $465 versus $87 for physicians’ insurance-related costs. Of the 3.2–percentage point increase in administration’s share of U.S. health expenditures since 1999, 2.4 percentage points was due to growth in private insurers’ overhead, mostly because of high overhead in their Medicare and Medicaid managed-care plans.

Limitations: Estimates exclude dentists, pharmacies, and some other providers; accounting categories for the 2 countries differ somewhat; and methodological changes probably resulted in an underestimate of administrative cost growth since 1999.

Conclusion: The gap in health administrative spending between the United States and Canada is large and widening, and it apparently reflects the inefficiencies of the U.S. private insurance–based, multipayer system [emphasis added]. The prices that U.S. medical providers charge incorporate a hidden surcharge to cover their costly administrative burden.

The healthcare system in the U.S. is not designed to provide healthcare to all U.S. citizens but to maintain control over U.S. workers and to feed the healthcare market.

Ironically, the U.S. market economy and workforce would likely function better and be more robust if all citizens were guaranteed healthcare through a publicly funded single-payer system and if workers were afforded greater autonomy and freedom (not held hostage in their jobs just to have healthcare) that would create a more robust open market in the workforce. In this version, however, owners and managers would be forced to participate in a more open marketplace of jobs where workers have the power of choice, both not to work or to work in better, more humane conditions.

The Left is not the cartoon version of oppression that many in the U.S. maintain. The Left seeks a democracy whereby fundamental needs are fully publicly funded (public schools, healthcare, judicial system, infrastructure, military, etc.) so that the market can function better and more ethically with the help of public support and oversight.

Public-first, market tolerant.

Market fundamentalism and market idealism in the U.S. are mostly rhetorical and dishonest because there is little effort to hold the media, political leaders, or social media posting to some sort of accuracy or internal logic.

As I have argued before, the U.S. electing and being represented by Trump is exactly what the ruling elites and this naive democracy deserve. The incoherent rhetoric and bombast combined with the relentless lies that characterize Trump are not such exaggerations of this country in many respects, a center-right people clutching a garbled ideology that doesn’t serve their own interests.

Recall the Trump voters who supported Trump to dismantle Obamacare and then being upset when the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was pulled out from under them.

These are the victims of not understanding rhetoric; it isn’t a far walk from not understanding that Obamacare and the ACA are the same thing, and not being able to define “socialism” even as you publicly reject it as evil.

This is the U.S. This is our naive democracy.

Today, the U.S. is trapped in politics as sport, a naive democracy lined up to make a false choice between Democrats and Republicans who are nearly holding hands on how they view the market and only slightly at odds over tolerating or rejecting public institutions.

We are the people worked into a lather about making the life-altering choice between a Camry or an Accord, a Coke or a Pepsi, but completely ignoring of the choice not to drive or not to consume soft drinks.

Where’s the freedom in that?