Saturday, April 3, 2010


Once upon a time, a great empire sported a rich senatorial class. They enjoyed power and position over hundreds of years. The Senators were so steeped in power as privilege that even minor political setbacks sparked their unreasoning petulance. If the chosen ruler sought to help the populace such that their self-perceived standing was diminished, they would cynically appeal to the masses to act against their own self interest. It usually worked. The problem was that successive appeals to mob rule weakened the empire from within. Increasing internal strife led to factional conflict, larger armies, increased taxation and finally to fateful employment of Germanic mercenaries. The Visigoths who sacked Rome in 410ad were led by Alaric I, whose Roman employment dated back to 394. (He was also Christian)

Exactly 1,600 years later, the greatest nation in human history is burdened with a disproportionately rich Republican rabble who suffer daily humiliation from a transcendent American leader. The President goes out of his way not to punish Republican failings, yet they make it unavoidable. He's no Caesar, but a strong case could be made for Cicero. His populism leaves them looking like shy school boys at an 8th grade dance. His deft diplomatic touch inspires global appreciation and - after less than 15 months in office - is bringing ardent foes like Russia under the big tent of shared interests and mutual opportunities. The President met dozens of Republicans in open debate and, unaided by notes or support staff, coolly dismissed their nonsensical view of healthcare reform as a threat to freedom. (As if living your life at the mercy of a gigantic corporation is anything but a modern form of slavery).

The President's determination to rectify decades of corporate cruelty meted out to loyal, hard-working Americans who, ravaged by disease, must contend with armies of insurance industry clerks, was far more than a giant step for social equality. The President knows what rich Republican Senators also know: lack of reliable health coverage has damaged America's ability to create new jobs. Republicans beat the cost side of the drum and even on that score, they're wrong. They know that new American jobs are created by small business, not by the large corporations that fill their coffers.

The strong economic disincentives for entrepreneurial risk-taking created by our broken healthcare finance system were completely overlooked amidst Republican rancor. People who otherwise would take a chance on a promising new job remain tethered to unsatisfying jobs by the risk of losing family health benefits. The steep decline in American workforce mobility - which in 2009 hit the lowest level seen since WW2 - has been erroneously blamed on the housing crisis. Economists point to workforce mobility as a leading contributor to America's economic superiority over Europe. When workers aren't mobile, nations squander their human capital.

The decline in American workforce mobility was exacerbated by Wall Street's recent follies but it extends back over decades and parallels three heretofore inexorable trends: (1) increasing market control in the hands of a fewer number of health insurers; (2) exploding cost of health care; (3) changes in bankruptcy laws that magnified the potential financial damage of uninsured health crises. You can argue the merits of bankruptcy reform (and TheRaven was appalled at the level of carefree abuse in the old system). However, that these trends increased systemic risk for all but young, 100% healthy & single entrepreneurs and their prospective employees is not up for debate.

The President simply flipped the drum over and beat the other side. It's all about the revenue side of the ledger. Healthcare reform frees the talents and energy of millions of entrepreneurs and their prospective employees, which will in turn fuel a new economic boom. The Republican response to legislative defeat was to dust off the Roman playbook and call for mob rule. In the end, even the dumbest among us might see a glimmer of light. Midterm elections might be the point when even the uneducated realize that our Roman Moment benefited no one. Even craven Republican wealth is imperiled by an economy held hostage by Aetna, BCBC, Humana, Cigna, UnitedHealthcare, et al.

We can only hope that the mob finally acts in its own best interests.

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