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August 30, 2009 - Ray Hall (Archive)
You’ve heard that old American adage: “The United States is the only country in the world where everyone has the opportunity to become a millionaire.”

True, but most do not. In the U.S. the top 1% of our population owns more wealth than the bottom 90% of Americans combined. Another way to look at it, according to the Office for Social Justice of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, "Bill Gates alone has as much wealth as the bottom 40 percent of U.S. households."

At one time America had the best of everything. We had the best automobiles, the best science, the best health, the best manufacturing, the best livelihood and the best education. America remains the richest country in the world followed by Germany in a distant second place, but why are so much of Europe, Asia, the Pacific Rim, New Zealand and Scandinavia pulling so far ahead in nearly everything else?

There are many reasons but predominate among them is our attitude and our use and misuse of government. In the United States we place too much reliance at the local level. Education is a prime example: While content to leave education in the hands of the state we express strong objections to ‘outsiders’ and ‘authorities’ making determinations about what our children should learn—about setting standards. We are great at substituting our regional and local bias, our prejudices for probity. Some communities oppose all attempts at standardization offering instead religiously based syllabi to the exclusion of national or global standards necessary to equip our children with the ability to compete in the modern world—the twenty first century.

That dogged insistence has helped create a chronic achievement gap in our educational levels that has been measured in terms of our national prosperity. In a report with the straight forward title; The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap in America’s Schools released in April, 2009 by McKinsey & Company it was concluded that “these educational gaps impose on the United States the economic equivalent of a permanent national recession.”

We remain a nation of contradictions, we say we cherish education, that we want our children to become doctors and lawyers and teachers, yet we mock teachers and ridicule doctors and lawyers. We talk boldly about not wanting to load our children and grandchildren with future government debt. Yet, in the same breath we have not even the slightest hesitation from strapping them with strangling student loans that will take half a life time to repay when they do become doctors, lawyers and teachers.

We claim to exercise discretion in practical affairs, a prudent nation, yet we allow clichés and tired bromides to influence decisions that prevent us from advancing—from “becoming all we can be” to use a familiar banality. We turn citizen against citizen with little regard for ethics or decency just to defame ideas that challenge mediocrity and superstition.

In our modern world countries that are besting us economically place a high value on education and make it available to all on equal terms. Their citizens have universal social safety nets without the stigma of means testing or having arbitrary and degrading classifications assigned by society or the government. It is not by accident that Finland has the world’s most educated children exceeding that of the United States and even Korea and Japan. In 2005 Robert Kaiser wrote in the Washington Post that Finns pay nothing for education at any level, including medical school or law school. He writes that their medical care creates an infant mortality rate half of ours and a life expectancy greater than ours. Finns health care costs represent 7% of their gross domestic product while the United States consumes 15% of our gross national product.

How much has that persistent gap in academic achievement between children in the United States and their counterparts in other countries cost us? According to the McKinsey Report, in 2008 the U.S. economy was deprived of $2.3 Trillion in economic output, or about what we are spending to bail out banks too big to fail.

The top 1% of Americans might be capable of managing well, but it is apparent that 90% of our population isn’t fairing nearly so well. We do not need to use Canada as a blueprint for our national healthcare or the social safety nets associated with Scandinavia to reduce the effects of poverty or to adopt the educational system of New Zealand to close our educational achievement gap—we can’t, we are uniquely different. Sure, we live in a country where anyone can become a millionaire, but we must stop being so small minded that we can’t take inspiration from and acknowledge the success of other countries. And why are we so angry, so fearful of living in a country that would have as its goal to help one another suceed?

FOOTNOTE: Last week I ended my blog with a question; “when was the last time you heard of a health insurance company going bankrupt?”

A READER RESPONDED: "Lenox Healthcare Capital Corporation and at least 80 affiliates have filed for Chapter 11 protection in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court" "Delanco Healthcare-Belmont & Parkside LP: Chapter 11. Date filed: 2009" "Magellan Health Services, Inc, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March to reduce nearly $1 billion in debt."

Lenox Healthcare and Delanco operated nursing homes and Lenox filed for Chapter 11 in 1999. Delanco did file in 2009. Magellan apparently filed Chapter 11 in 2003 but Yahoo Finance Business Summary describes Magellan Health Services as follows:

“Magellan Health Services, Inc. provides managed behavioral healthcare, radiology benefits management, and pharmaceutical management services to health plans, insurance companies, corporations, labor unions, and various governmental agencies in the United States.”

None of the companies referenced are health insurance companies. It appears that Magellan acts as an administrator for existing companies and is listed on the stock exchange as MGLN at about $33.00 a share.

Private health insurance company must deny claims; ration care to make a profit.


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