Thursday, July 19, 2007

No Profit from Matters of Life and Death

Capitalism is great for creating wealth. It harnesses a powerful motivator -- private self-interest -- to run its engines. Even Marx was effusive in his praise of the capacity of capitalism to produce goods and services in enormous quantities. The great drawback, of course, is the massive inequalities it creates and that are perpetuated by the money and power of the big winners. Unfortunately, we -- unlike European countries -- never developed a sustainable socialist tradition capable of winning national elections.

In general, I prefer to let the market system work (with appropriate regulation, which we now lack, to protect the health, safety, and welfare of citizens) to distribute income and wealth as long as it is done fairly, i. e., without special advantages that law can correct. We can use the tax system to produce funds for public purposes and put a steep rate on those who have enormous salaries and amass great wealth. Let the corporations decide much to pay their CEOs, e. g. We will just tax the obscenely high results at high rates.

But there are two areas that should be removed from the private profit-making arena: health care and national defense. These are literally matters of life and death. Expanding Medicare to cover everybody, e. g., will take care of the health insurance problem, and perhaps independent non-profit enterprises can be established to build weapons and produce the new drugs that scientific advances make possible. Economists can tell us how to do it and get the job done efficiently.

Health care and national defense are too important to national life to allow private interests to be in charge. Remember President's Eisenhower's warning about the dangers inherent in the expansion of the power of the "military-industrial complex?" Perhaps we should now speak of the "military-industrial-university-medical complex." Let people make money on other things, but the nation needs to make sure that the lust for money-making does not corrupt the enterprises that defend us from diseases that produce sickness and death and from the hostile people at home and abroad. I would suggest that it is not good policy to give people a reason to love wars and the the rumors of wars when the possibility of making a lot of money out of it is involved.

On the defense industries see:

See the case for nationalizing the defense industry:

John Kenneth Galbraith made a similar proposal in 1969 in an article in The New York Times entitled, “The Big Defense Firms Are Really Public Firms and Should be Nationalized.”

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