American health care is a catastrophic failure because it makes care a commodity and suffering a source of profit.
Medicine cannot be commodified as exchange rests on contractual relations among informed consumers. These relations cannot exist in medicine. Socialized medicine makes it possible to treat illnesses with care, without an eye to profitability. In Britain, before the Blairites began to undercut the National Health Service (NHS), socialized medicine produced dramatic gains in quality of life, overall health, lifespan, fitness and happiness. Care that is free at the point of service makes it easier for patients to seek treatment, for the state to undertake dramatic expansions of preventive medicine and for doctors to work without having to worry about anyone’s bottom line. In every instance, socialized medicine, even just single-payer systems, has proven cheaper, more humane, fairer and healthier than America’s dystopian nightmare. No one goes bankrupt or must solicit donations on the internet or simply do without under socialized medicine.
There are intangible benefits, too. An NHS in America would allow us to undertake unprofitable investments in preventive, palliative and rehabilitative care, giving dignity back to millions of people who currently have to solicit donations for substandard care. Socialized medicine makes us freer — we have more life to live, more autonomy. We cannot let the trust and care involved when we are made well by another person’s touch be sullied, so we fight for Medicare for all as the first step toward socialized medicine. Other socialist efforts should include expansion of public health programs, regulations that make medicine safer for patients and the liquidation of the health insurance industry. We cannot let human suffering be an engine of profit.
Capitalism demands suffering. Individual firms have an incentive to increase exploitation and weaken the security of workers. The ruling classes structure the flow of capital to their own benefit. This means deliberately distorting the development of weaker countries, isolating or destroying ideological or national rivals and imposing political control.
Such acts of economic destruction and physical aggression serve overlapping political purposes. In Iraq, it was the destruction of an unfriendly government and the privatization of its assets. In Libya, NATO destroyed a government that supported anti-imperialist movements in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The Greek debt crisis, the finest example of economic imperialism, saw the core powers in Europe impose a depression on a weaker neighbor to realign its political economy and keep the core countries afloat. The role war plays in capitalism is underscored by the heedless worship of U.S. military power. No one spends $700 billion unless they’re getting something out of it.
Socialists need to lead a broad anti-war movement, while also building institutions of international solidarity and developing trade and development policies that redistribute global wealth and encourage sustainability. We cannot cede the international arena to capital. Though socialism in one country is possible, isolation or destruction is guaranteed so long as capitalism is ascendant.
We must resist the commodification of human need and the imposition of imperialism if we are to have a shot at building a fair world.