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Our Health Care System Is Organized for the Wealthy -- We Can Change That

We are accustomed to living in a sharply tiered society, but it doesn't have to be that way with health care.

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In older households the wealthy fared even better. In families where the person who answered the survey was 55 to 64, those in the top 20 percent lost just 22 percent, winding up with $2.57 million. By contrast, those hanging on to the third middle rung of the ladder saw their net worth cut nearly in half (down 49%) leaving them with a home and savings worth $147,196. 

How We Got Where We Are Today

In 1972, a group of researchers funded by the Volkswagon Foundation published a book titled The Limits to Growth .  Based on a MIT computer model using system dynamics, the book predicted that unless the current trajectory of population and industrial growth was altered, we would eventually face a sudden and uncontrollable decline.  .

"By challenging our beliefs in the inevitable rightness and goodness of technical, industrial, and economic growth, the book evoked great controversy, notes John Van Doren writing on the Sustainable Home Blog, "and would eventually sell over 30 million copies in more than 30 languages."

The authors of The Limits to Growth predicted that the signs of imminent decline would include:

  • Rising debt; eroding goals for health and environment
  • Investment in human resources (education, shelter, health care) postponed in order to provide immediate consumption and security demands .
  • Deterioration in renewable resources - surface and ground water, forests, fisheries, agricultural land.
  • Rising levels of pollution.
  • Growing demands for capital, resources, and labor by military and industry to secure, process, and defend resources.
  • Growing instability in natural ecosystems.
  • Growing gap between rich and poor -- between the powerful and the weak .

Why would a widening gap between the elite and the rest of the population foreshadow an economic meltdown?  Van Doren turns to John Williams, of Shadow Government Statistics, for an explanation: "income variance is a long-term (multi-year) indicator of economic activity. The more extreme it gets, the worse the economy and the financial markets eventually will become. Looking at two simplified markets with one man making $100,000,000 per year or 1,000 men making $100,000 per year, there will tend to be more speculative financial markets in the first case, but more automobiles will be sold in the second case. The system tends to be self-adjusting when income variance reaches an extreme, with the speculative market bubble eventually bursting and income and economic activity tending to get redistributed."  

And this is exactly what has happened over the past 29 years.  As those at the top grew wealthier, they spent more. Driving consumption and investment, they pushed the price of everything from mortgage-backed derivates to condo sheathed in glass into the stratosphere.  Cars began to resemble military vehicles; homes became mansions with 15 foot ceilings, and hospitals became hotels. The problem was that with so much wealth concentrated at the top, too much money was chasing too few things.  Prices levitated far above fundamental values.  Meanwhile, everything from homes to healthcare became increasingly unaffordable for the rest of the population. Those who wanted to buy a house had to borrow more.  Alan Greenspan's easy money policy greased the path to insolvency.

An economy hooked on growth would depend on consumers to keep it going.   President Bush assured Americans that we could shop our way out of a recession if we just purchased more "stuff." 

The authors of The Limits to Growth were not against growth, per se, Van Doren explains, but they warned: "A sustainable society would be interested in qualitative development, not physical expansion. It would use material growth as a considered tool, not a perpetual mandate. It would neither be for nor against growth. Before this society would decide on any specific growth proposal, it would ask what the growth was for, and who would benefit, and what it would cost, and how long it would last, and whether it would be accommodated by the [natural] sources and sinks of the planet." 

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