gall and gumption

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

From the Mailbag

A friend and frequent commenter here posted on her own blog about this appalling story out of the Washington Post. The Post collects blog links to some of their feature stories, and Leslie's got picked up. (The link was there earlier today and now it's gone.) So here's what she wrote, anyhow.

Twelve-year-old Deamonte Driver died of a toothache Sunday.
A routine, $80 tooth extraction might have saved him.
If his mother had been insured.
If his family had not lost its Medicaid.
If Medicaid dentists weren't so hard to find.
If his mother hadn't been focused on getting a dentist for his brother, who had six rotted teeth.
By the time Deamonte's own aching tooth got any attention, the bacteria from the abscess had spread to his brain, doctors said. After two operations and more than six weeks of hospital care, the Prince George's County boy died.

(And people are worried about Britney's children. Give me a fucking break. If anyone is so bighearted that he has time to worry about someone's kids other than his own, why doesn't he write a check for $80 and give it to a single Black mother who is working two jobs?)

Outside of the developing world (and a lot of developing countries want to do better than this, but lack the capacity, the United States has the meanest, most ignoble, most sordid conception of social justice and the well-being of the poor and needy -- old, poor, sick, and black, immigrant. It is immoral, it is a disgrace. For the last 20 years I have listened as the rationalizations for throwing the poor overboard have wormed their way into "respectable discourse," and the shamelessness of the scorn for the poor that you hear in this country, well, it would make Jesus gag.

This child died because meanness is entrenched in the institutions that should have looked after him. Everything is arranged so that people are made to feel ashamed of asking for help, and put to the maximum inconvenience for the most parsimonious handout. The whole thing is an insult. It is mean to believe that everyone who walks in the door of a social service agency is looking for something for nothing.

Where does that belief come from? People who go and gamble their spare cash in the casinos all over the country? What is that but getting something for nothing? People who have speculated in the housing bubble? Or people who made a killing in the tech stock boom of the 1990s? No work, no value added, just wait for the bigger fool. When you have an insurance industry that can decline to sell you coverage on the grounds that you have some likelihood of needing the service -- for which you are paying -- who is getting something for nothing?

The dot-com boom was a stock bubble. And when it burst because people pulled their money out of tech stocks they put it into housing. And housing started to climb, aided by low interest rates. Well, you'd think with the low rates houses would become more affordable. But no, instead the prices went crazy. The price of housing in areas like the DC Metro area, California, and Florida was out of any remotely sane relationship to wages or any fundamentals. Credit was cheap, borrow lots!It was a Ponzi scheme, which is predicated on the expectation of something for nothing. And it ran its course, as these things do, and there are all these people now who are sitting and waiting for the price they feel entitled to on the basis of totally artificial inflation. The mortgage brokers who made loans of half a million dollars to people who earned $75,000 a year, and then passed the note up the Wall Street food chain and made a killing off of loan fees because they carried no liability for the defaults that are now occurring all over the country? They got something for nothing. The poor are paying for all this, they pay for it by working for shit wages at Wal-Mart, by having to take jobs with no health benefits, with constant insecurity, with no provision for child care -- for some families it is more expensive for both parents to work than to have one parent stay home with the kids. I know families like this.

How many billions of dollars of reconstruction money just walked away into the void in Iraq? Cash taken off of pallets, stuffed into duffel bags, nobody knows where all that public money went? Well, a whole bunch of Americans there got something for nothing. Enron, easing itself out of the oil business and into the "deals" business and then into the fraud business before the admiring eyes of the world, was all about something for nothing. And oh, my god, the endless stream of seminars and workshops on "No Money Down" real estate, on day trading, on making your fortune with spam, multi-level marketing: there's one of these bloody things going on somewhere every single day. People go to these things and enroll in programs and plans and some huckster shows off his Jaguar or photos of the beach house, and he takes their money and gives them nothing except a bunch of cheesy pamphlets and books and maybe some DVDs. He is literally getting something for nothing,

In a culture that lives on the deathless conviction of entitlement to something for nothing, what is the source of this horror of the welfare state? If this woman could have taken her sons to a dentist and known that dignified, prompt, respectful, and competent care was available for them no matter where the money came from, if everyone here had a right to that kind of something for nothing, why would this be so much worse than all these other kinds of something for nothing?