Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The apologetics roll in

See here.

The basic argument is that the ruling against the mandate is part of one "tradition" of views about U.S. economy, whereas the defense of the mandate represents another. The first "tradition" is laissez faire. The second is a reformist and progressive. The author of the article would have us believe that ObamaCare is part of the reformist tradition of ideas that lend support to Medicare and Social Security.

The facts suggest otherwise. ObamaCare is not a reformist push against the entrenched power of elites... it is a further entrenchment of the power of those very elites. Rather than tampering with capitalism, ObamaCare expands and institutionalizes the for-profit insurance industry and, at the same time, mandates that all Americans purchase their products or face a penalty. Medicare, on the other hand, is an ambitious program that actually displaced private interests for the public good by guaranteeing seniors access to health care.

So, it is just false that we must either defend the individual mandate put into law by ObamaCare, on the one hand, or concede defeat to the laissez faire lunatics on the Right. Putting the point that way obscures what's at stake by making Obama appear as a progressive facing down conservative opposition. In reality, he's basically a conservative defending a conservative idea against conservative opportunists that happen to be in a different faction of the single pro-business party which monopolizes the political process.

It hardly needs to be said that this notion of "two traditions of thought" is basically bullshit for at least two different reasons. First of all, from the perspective of pure intellectual history, these two "traditions" are neither perennially competing nor coherent paradigms unto themselves. The notion of "laissez faire" obscures more than it explains in the real world. It is mere ideology (in the pejorative sense). It is but one idea, marshaled in certain circumstances when others weren't so effective, used to legitimate certain unjust social arrangements. Capitalist economies have never really operated on the basis of "laissez faire", nor could they. Defenders of the inequalities of capitalism have been far more creative and dynamic than the facile idea of a "tradition of laissez faire" suggests. And the supposedly competing "progressive" paradigm is no better. Speaking purely in terms of ideas, views as different as the technocratic reformism of Keynesian economics, the agrarian radicalism of the populists, and the socialist egalitarianism of the early labor movement could all potentially be the referent of such a "paradigm". It is no help to subsume them all under one heading and claim that they were all after a "social minimum" or "safety net".

Second, it's unclear that we should think of the political struggles over reforms in purely ideational terms. We must also talk about material conditions, unexpected historical or economic shifts, organization and struggle, changes in configurations of power, etc. etc. In short, it won't do us any good to talk about the historical change a series of passages from one idea to the next. We forget at our own peril that the dominant ideas in a capitalist society are not the outcome of a free rational discussion open to all; they are often the congealed effects of a certain configuration of power. Marx's sociological way of putting the point is that the ideas of the ruling class are often the ruling ideas. That means that if you control the means of production and distribution of information, you're likely to have a strong impact on the currency of ideas.

Thus, the entire framework of analysis posited in this article is obfuscatory and ideological. Even worse, it misapplies it's own ideological framework and attempts to incorporate ObamaCare into a contrived paradigm to which ObamaCare does not belong.

No comments: