Lost in Neoliberal Hell

Covered California - Neoliberal HellIt’s that time of the year: the trudge through dozens of healthcare plans and figure out what your best option is. Because we all have to remember: we are all perfect consumers and by letting us waste hours and even days going over this, the God of Economics will look down on us fondly and make rich people even richer.

“We are currently experience high call volumes and are unable to take your call at this time… Goodbye.”

I’m happy with my current plan, which is with Kaiser Permanente. I have a hippy doctor who believes in doing as little as possible. And I love that because I think doctors are really dangerous. But there are a number of Kaiser plans. And I’m not inclined to pay $500 per month this year for health insurance — which could happen because I make substantially more money this year than I did last year.

Change I Can’t Believe In

So I have to go onto the Covered California website to make changes. But when I do, it tells me that it is not open enrollment now. This could be. I don’t recall getting health insurance until maybe March. So maybe I shouldn’t be putting myself through this madness until February.

“We are currently experience high call volumes and are unable to take your call at this time… Goodbye.”

The point of my bringing this all up is that I don’t need this extra stress in my life. It would be better if I just paid my taxes and the government dealt with the rest. You know, that way people who actually understand this stuff could take care of it. And I could just worry about when I ought to go to the doctor.

This Is Neoliberal Policy

My preferred system would be what we call “liberal” (or “socialist” if you want). The system we have now — Obamacare — is neoliberal. And this is one reason I got so mad when Jonathan Chait and others claimed that there really was no difference between “liberal” and “neoliberal” — except in terms of propaganda. In other words, “neoliberal” was just a pejorative for “liberal.”

“We are currently experience high call volumes and are unable to take your call at this time… Goodbye.”

That’s clearly not the case. Neoliberalism is what conservatism used to be — at least in terms of economics (which is pretty much the only conext that it is used in). You could call Reagan a neoliberal. So is anyone who thinks that the true way to help the world is to enrich the already rich. It’s why Nick Hanauer’s lecture about the myth of the job creator scandalized all those well-heeled “liberal” Ted Talk types.

The “Magic” of the Market

Neoliberalism is the belief that the best way to help the nation is through bank shots. A liberal would approach poverty by giving food, housing, and money to the poor. A neoliberal would give money to corporations with the idea that they would maybe give job training to the poor and thus allow the poor to get jobs and thus food, housing, and money to the poor. The critical element of neoliberalism is its fetishization of the market and its supposed magic powers.

“We are currently experience high call volumes and are unable to take your call at this time… Goodbye.”

And so, we couldn’t just have universal health insurance. No! We have to have healthcare exchanges where all of us totally unqualified people could take a whack at picking the right plan for us. And if we don’t have enough money to buy even the worst insurance, well, the government will pay. But not to us. We can’t be trusted to spend money properly — only to choose the right health insurance for us.

Making the Rich Richer

But there is a reason for all of this. The neoliberals are convinced that by involving the business community, everything will be much better. Oh, I’m kidding! They do it because the neoliberals who make the laws are themselves rich. They don’t want to see their rich friends miss out on the gravy train. (Of course: they couldn’t.) And as a result, I wasted hours this morning, doing my part to make the market do its magic.

“We are currently experience high call volumes and are unable to take your call at this time… Goodbye.”

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

17 thoughts on “Lost in Neoliberal Hell

  1. But…gummint intervention! Death panels! Rationing!

    I mean…we couldn’t possibly have some sort of faceless government bureaucrat making decisions about our health care. It’s far, far better to have a faceless insurance company bureaucrat making those decisions..!

    • Don’t get me started! The logic of that thinking just drives me bananas. For one thing it goes against massive evidence from other countries. ‘Cause ‘Murica, we don’t learn from nobody!

      But the evidence is unimportant to our leaders and their leaders. They can convolute themselves into believing anything. What never stops boggling my mind is the evidence people experience every time they go to the doctor or deal with their insurer or healthcare network. Really? This stuff strikes anyone as rational?

      You will have an easier time calling the IRS about amending a tax return than you will calling the insurance company about a billing issue. That’s messed up!

  2. I have a suggestion. Hopefully a good one…

    Instead of getting stuck on such vague terms as neoliberal, liberal or even conservative -why not focus mainly on particular policies and issues? To me that makes more sense.

    Three reasons why this is potentially good:

    1) It creates greater opportunity for agreement.

    2) It eliminates the vagueness of grand ideologies.

    3) It allows for a more concise, less nebulous examination on any issue really.

    I could be wrong but I think this creates clarity and even potential unity on issues (if they make sense). If somehow I am not seeing the forest from the trees and I am mistaken on this – it would not be the first time… but that is how I see it…

    • Clarity is always excellent. I think you’re onto something important about how ideological labels are often used. As judgment words, not specific adjectives. That can give us dumb phrases like “liberal media” or “bourgeois morality” & such.

      I do find there’s a use for them. If, say, I’m talking about Prime Minister X, I might refer to X as left wing or far right or whatever. If I’m talking about X’s policies, it is clearer to specify the policies without labels.

      In this case I believe Frank is making a valid literary criticism of Chait’s politics. Chair routinely calls himself liberal. He’s socially centrist and economically center-right. He uses the label “liberal” to define his positions as the farthest left-wing ideology any Serious Person can hold. So by calling his positions “neoliberal” one is saying that Chait’s assertion is incorrect. There are many serious voters, writers, and politicians considerably more liberal than Chait.

      I think, again, it’s a matter of clarity. If you or I choose to coin a phrase, “bubblegum politics,” that’s fine, as long as the term is defined. But we shouldn’t assume our audience knows what we mean.

      • I am not familiar with Jonathan Chait.

        In general I tend to avoid political pundits. I am very much a skeptic. All these expert pundits and hardly even one managed to even foresee a possible GOP presidential win with Trump as president-elect.

        I cannot say for sure but I believe this very blog may have articles either describing Chait as either liberal or aspects of his writings as such. Although you could perhaps disagree with such a label applied to Jon Chait.

        So this brings me back to my earlier comment. All these broad labels are highly relative and rather nebulous very often. What also messes things up is what issue one might be talking about as well.

        Now I consider myself socially liberal most times but maybe there is one issue where I might be conservative. I can’t think of any this second to be honest.

        I am certainly very centrist on many issues regarding the economy and even center or center right/ conservative on foreign policy issues (again depending on the issue). Though I would hope I have a nuanced viewpoint no matter what -that defies some cookie cutter label. Hopefully I am more complex as a person than that. Or at least not a complete simpleton…

        The Pepsi/Coca Cola false dichotomy that we are so often made to accept in our culture – I reject.

        I value my freedom. I have the right to my contrarian ways. And it is up to anyone who happens to disagree with me to use a reasoned argument to show me I am wrong in any discussion.

        Btw if I have not said so before – this may be one of the best blogs I have seen online – for its diversity of subject matter and integrity alone. And that is despite the fact that I may not agree at times with the folks commenting here or with Frank for that matter. And other times I may agree or I agree to some extent.

        Hey it’s not black and white with me. Wish it was. Life could be so much simpler.

        But if I am honest really – I have to admit it is more fun to have differing views than to always agree. I guess that is the rascal in me.

        • Well, don’t ever disagree with Frank. He knows the computer stuff. He’ll probably train your laptop to kill you. And friend Elizabeth has a judge’s gavel made out of plutonium.

          Everybody has to decide things for themselves. The kind of centrism that I find maddening is the forced kind. Where someone thinks, “well, if the left says this and the right says that, I’ll be independent-minded and come down in the middle.” That’s not really independent-minded! That’s being swayed by how others define the issues. My brothers (nice people, all) go this route, and it drives me nuts. Many pundits do something similar, and it also drives me nuts … but since I don’t know them, I don’t know if they’re nice people.

          If you’re ever bored, check out the sidebar listings here. Most are liberal, but their primary interest is they’re good writers, economists, cartoonists, etc.

          There’s a few pundits I read, not many. Charles Pierce is very funny. Rick Saultin at the Toronto Star is very old and very wise. Leonard Pitts at the Miami Herald is less old and more righteously angry. I’m sure there are many other good ones. Only so much time to read, though. (If you ever have time, get one of the late Molly Ivins’s books. She was a treasure. Her nickname for W? “Shrub.”)

          Nothing wrong with having different opinions. And nothing wrong with wanting to improve the way we all write. Biologists for some time have encouraged us to talk about “ethnic tensions” instead of “racial tensions,” because from a scientific view, ethnicity is real, race is not. I think that’s quite useful. So keep working on your end to improve how English is written!

          My contrarian rascal side makes me want to see how many grammar rules I can get away with breaking and still produce coherent paragraphs …

            • Nope, that’s my thing. I never learned grammar correctly. So I stopped trying …

              As for disliking political pundits, that’s a valid matter of taste. There’s certain types of writing, music, etc., we each much don’t care for. Me, I can’t stand motivational books, although I know some people are helped by them. They don’t help me, though! Also any Founding Fathers stuff, unless it has dancing or monsters.

          • I tend to believe race is a false construct. We agree. Yay. Especially in light of how a great number of people use it to justify their own prejudices. I could probably write a book on that one (once I improve my grammar).

            And y’knows I should pay more attention to grammar probably but I am too much of a moron to bother.

            I need to stop being so lazy

            I am familiar with Molly Ivins a bit. Thought she was overrated. Sorry. I am just really hard to please.

            I am trying to think of one political pundit I admire. Still thinking… still thinking…I will have to get back to you on that one.

  3. The thing about Death Panels is that there was some truth to that claim. Healthcare resources have to be rationed one way or another and under a purely socialist system, experts would have to create protocols that prioritize the allocation of health care resources to some things over other things. What conservatives forgot was that every economic system engages in allocation, that is sort of the heart of the academic discipline that is Economics.

    Under a purely a capitalist system, the billing clerk at a hospital or a doctor’s office functions as the death panel. Of course, the US healthcare system before 2010 was a mix of capitalist and socialist. While tea partiers espoused the virtues of capitalist healthcare, they availed themselves of socialist medicare and their main objection was that Obama care would move resources from their cohort and help younger, less deserving Americans.

    • Both these comments are spot on. I used to work with a part-time nurse whose full-time job was interviewing insurance customers on the phone to try and trick them into admitting a pre-existing condition. Because then their claim could be denied. (I was gonna ask her out until I learned that — she was a damn good nurse!)

      So much of this relies on the conservative canard that “if they do it you you, you deserved it, but if they do it to me, it’s not fair.” Since most people don’t experience vast mistreatment on a daily basis, it’s easy to ignore the mistreatment of others. Or, conversely, to believe exaggerations of outrages repeated for propaganda purposes (if we agree with the propaganda). Humans are very vulnerable to the small-sample-size fallacy.

  4. I try to tell conservatives that Obamacare has two major components, the socialist Medicaid expansion and the capitalist exchanges. The socialist portion is doing very well (and it would be doing even better if Republican governors had accepted it in their States). The vexing part of Obamacare, the part that conservatives are always complaining about is the exchanges, the market based portion of Obamacare.

    Older conservatives love Medicare, which is socialist. They hate the exchanges, which are market driven, and their belief is that we need more capitalism in the American healthcare system in general.

  5. And the fundamental fallacy of the whole “capitalist” part of medical care is that the elements of a genuinely functional capitalist economy just aren’t there.

    There’s no way in hell that the “consumer” of medical care can make an informed decision. Insurance policies are designed by attorneys to be implemented by corporate desk-sitters in ways that are generally opaque to the average person. There’s no realistic way that a “consumer” can compare cost versus value, or anticipate benefits versus prices. There’s no “market”; what the hell are you going to do, comparison-shop for your hip replacement? “Gee, Doc A can do this for 45% less than Doc B, but he says that the life-span of the cheap plastic Croatian-made hip parts is 95% of the spendier U.S.-made stuff Doc B. uses…that’s a savings worth having!”

    But…since U.S. “conservatives” typically don’t actually understand how markets work – let’s face it, anyone who insists that “government” impairs market functions rather than regulates the terms and conditions so that the entire thing doesn’t collapse into a gypsy camp fair comprehends market economics the way a cow understands the Council of Trent – so they just arm-wave and pretend their magical thinking is “facts and evidence”…

  6. The post reminds me of something I’m pretty sure I read here, that I believe Frank wrote – though it makes so much sense I’m hoping this was posited long ago: basically, society has far more reasons to fear tyrannical and overreaching corporations vs. a tyrannical and overreaching government. Every single day, every hour of every day someone is spending more time, money and energy trying to protect themselves from a corporation. Think about it.

    • This is absolutely true. And yet if I mention crummy customer service to a True Believer conservative (on the assumption they’ve experienced the same), almost invariably their reaction will be that any inconvenience or outright misconduct on the part of corporations is due to … government regulations. You see, companies don’t put us through phone menu hell and try to welch on any promise they make because it’s profitable. They do so because those damn government regulations force them to. Ah, yes, the Phone Menu Act of 1993. I’m sure that exists.

      When someone’s that incapable of trusting even their own experiences, there’s not much you can say to get through. Try talking to the next soul, I guess.

  7. In the end it all comes to down to the core of every enterprise there is: Business. Of course, the idea of having the government, whom we voted to actually do something to help us, the people, provide whatever needs we need is great. However, how would this benefit the guys behind the big brands? By applying this system, they’re able to benefit from our attempt to live healthy and long life and unfortunately, I don’t see a way out of it. Any ideas?

    • Organize. That’s the only idea I have. We need to wean people off this propaganda that certain things we demand as rights are “unrealistic.” Like companies that honor contracts, and nationalized health care. But it’s so ingrained that these things are unrealistic, convincing people otherwise will take time. A Democratic party that provided real tangible victories for the little folks at the local level would be a good start.

      There’s an amazing scene in the Robert Reich movie “Inequality For All.” Reich is trying to organize workers at a Utah geothermal power plant. Keep in mind that you can’t outsource geothermal energy, it’s location-locked. It’s also a very high-skills job.

      Reich is talking statistics about how much profit the company makes (which is public record) and several workers are agreeing; they should demand better wages. One guy pipes up. With a sad tone, he says, I don’t deserve better pay. I didn’t go to college. The owners are smart, they made better choices, they deserve to treat us how they want.

      This s**t is so internalized now. Because when your employer or a company you buy services from screws you over, they’ve perfected the art of making it seem your fault and their right. It’s insidious. And the worship of wealth as a mark of “smarts” has been going on for 40 years. Nobody made movies in 1955 where the mean rich guy was the hero!

      We’ve got a lot of hearts and minds to change — just to remind people they can fight back. What’s the old Ben Franklin line? “If we don’t hang together, we shall surely hang separately.” That line will be 250 years old by 2026. Let’s work together to reteach the truth of it between now and then.

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