Dirty Two-some of American Society

American society today, suffers from two malignant tumours. These are two groups wielding enormous power. Both of them are holy cows. Both are such that journalists and analysts dither in even naming them. They have achieved the status of ‘he-who-cannot-be-named’ in the Harry Potter novels. They are the healthcare industry and the military-industrial complex. Together, they account for almost half of US federal spending.

Doctors’ earnings in the United States are disproportionately high as compared to other developed nations. This is not just a cost to the nation by itself, but is multiplied manifold as it feeds a nexus of “Bro, I got your back, you got mine”, between the doctors, hospitals, big-pharma and insurance companies.

The biggest problem is the supposed goody-goody image of the doctor as the small town physician, who is barely able to keep up with the rising expenses of maintaining a clinic, because of ahem… the increasing regulations. No columnist is able to mutter a word about this, for fear that his family physician would ditch him, and he would be left without a modicum of medical care. Meanwhile, new software being marketed to the doctors, specifically provides ways by which they can game the system. I.e. charge for a thorough examination of the patient, the form being filled up by the software, even when the cursory check-up by the doctor does not justify the high charges he seeks.

Healthcare in USA today, takes away nearly 18% of the national budget. More than double that in other developed nations. And even after that, it does not provide for universal coverage for its citizens.

Now, for the cancerous tumour no. 2. The defence budget is well and truly a travesty. After the cold war, it should have plummeted. But instead, the graph of comparative defence budgets of the top five countries looks like this :

The United States’ defence budget is more than that of the next twenty largest military spenders combined!!!

Romney remarked during the third presidential debate that the no. of ships owned by the US Navy has decreased. Well, though the U.S. Navy has shrunk since the end of the Cold War, its battle fleet is still larger than the next 13 navies combined — and 11 of those 13 navies are U.S. allies or partners!

On the one hand politicians vie with each other to promise to protect defence spending. Romney wants to increase it further by 20%, by financing it by … tax cuts for the rich. (Don’t expect math from the Republicans. p.s.: Also, do not expect rational climate change science.)

On the other hand, teachers and librarians and park janitors are laid off by the thousands.

The reason is evident. The military spending hugely benefits the private contractors like Halliburton. They got huge juicy slices of the spending in Iraq. They are the ones who payroll the Republican politicians, who in turn dance to their tunes. The no. of jobs created by them are a small sliver of those that would have been created if the same money would be spent in other areas e.g. schools and libraries and public parks. But then those things are not paying for the politicians.

If America is to get itself out of this stinking mess, it is time the average citizen starts to question the basic assumptions at the root of keeping these two groups fattened at the cost of the country at large.

Yours truly,

Vivek Shroff (vivekshroff@mac.com)