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the ‘noble lie’ of the aca

December 10, 2013

From Jacobin Magazine, a look at the financial feasibility of enacting a single-payer healthcare system vs. the Affordable Care Act, which in my opinion further undermines the myth that the ACA was the best ‘they’ could do for ‘us’ under the circumstances:

 The Backroom Deal That Could’ve Given Us Single-Payer

Personally, I think part of the difficulty to getting something like a single-payer healthcare system enacted is the structure of our political-economic system itself, which was designed from its very inception to represent and protect the interests of wealthy, ruling elites while appealing to the notions of freedom and equality. Historically, things that look out for and protect the production and accumulation of wealth for those at the top of the economic food chain are systematically much easier to institute than things which tend to benefit the mass of working-class people, which often require a great deal of prolonged struggle and threat of rebellion.

Because the Affordable Care Act keeps the current structure basically intact while forcing more people into the insurance market, protecting the jobs and income of health insurance company execs, pharmaceutical company execs, industry lobbyists, etc., it appears as the best possible solution under the circumstances from the point of view of capital and the state, incurring less opposition by Congress and a myriad of interest groups “willing and able to spend millions lobbying, hiring former politicians, and donating to campaigns.”

The ACA doesn’t rock the boat too much while attempting (or at least appearing) to deliver better/more affordable coverage to working-class Americans. To criticize the ACA from this point of view, then, is to criticize the very system that designed and enacted it, a system that’s much less democratic and egalitarian than is popularly believed. The ACA isn’t malicious, but it’s not necessarily in our best interest, either; just as our current political-economic system isn’t malicious, but not necessarily in our best interest.

What would more in our interest, for example, is a single-payer healthcare system, but they didn’t even consider a single-payer model when crafting their healthcare reform. They worked this deal out with the insurance companies in closed-door negotiations. And it’s a terrible deal, in my opinion. Yes, it helps some people get better coverage and prevents others from being dropped or not being accepted due to previous health issues, but it also jacks up the prices for others and puts people like me, one of the growing number of ‘working poor,’ into a bad financial situation. On top of that, the healthcare exchange system itself if relatively complicated and time-consuming to navigate.

I recently enrolled in a bronze plan through my employer, with its lower premiums but higher deductibles and out of pockets expenses, because it was the only thing I could afford (and by ‘afford,’ I mean it’s the least costly option out of several I can’t actually afford). And as I was looking at the selection of plans — bronze, silver, gold, platinum — I was reminded of ‘the myth of the metals’ in book III of Plato’s Republic, where Socrates and Glaucon’s hypothetical society is stratified into three social classes via a kind of “Phoenician tale” in order to make the citizens more inclined to accept their respective social positions and the rule of the state (i.e., a way to counter the factionalism or class struggle Founding Fathers like James Madison were so worried about).

The myth or noble lie, which some interpret to be Plato’s programme for his ideal utopia, is that each citizen’s soul is imbued with a certain kind of metal—gold for those fit to rule, silver for helpers/soldiers, and bronze for the class of productive labourers. As the tale goes, the city-state will prosper if these metals remain unmixed and in their proper place; but if the city-state is ruled by those whose souls are mixed with the wrong metal, the city will fall into ruin.

I wonder if maybe the ACA is just one of the many, tedious ‘noble lies’ told to us ‘bronze’ citizens to keep us pacified in Obama’s modern, neoliberal utopia in which we’re “forced to spend an inordinate amount of time keeping track of each and every facet of our economic lives.”

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