Thoughts with Richard Bleil
Currently, I’m sitting in a medical center waiting room. My friend is having a stent removed with issues relating to kidney stones. I just received a call telling me that the procedure is over, and that he did well, so that’s good news. He will still be another hour to an hour and a half, though, so I’ll just sit here and write.
On the drive here, we were talking about the downside of capitalism. The reality is that if anything can be converted into a means to make a profit in our society, it will be, or has been already. Medicine is one example, and education is another.
I’ve written on education and its cost previously. There was a time that public education was taken to be an investment. The more highly educated people were, the higher their salaries, and the more taxes they’ll end up paying as a result. Back when that was the model, education wasn’t free per se, but student loans were low or zero interest, and typically had a year interest free after graduation to give the student a chance to get settled into a new life, new job, and new income. But today, unfortunately, the government run student loans have been privatized, and interest rates are ridiculous. What’s worse, college itself is now a for-profit institution, including state schools, as demonstrated by tuition and associate costs (dorm, food plans, activity and other fees) far outpacing not just inflation, but income as well.
Another privatization battleground has become health care. Costs of health care is increasing dramatically as it feeds on another for profit institution, namely insurance. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare), more people have insurance now, but co-payments and deductibles are still often difficult for people to make.
Ultimately, as a society, we have to decide where we are going. It sounds anti-capitalist to suggest that some things should have their costs, or at least their profit margins, restricted, but at least this would help level the playing field. The oil industry has positioned itself to be the lifeblood of our society. While they claim that oil costs are increasing, their profit margins are higher than ever, and the price of gasoline affects everything else in our society. Food being delivered to grocery stores has a cost association with the price of gasoline, so as gas prices rise, food prices will go up. And the concept that the price of oil is to blame is a fabrication. As oil prices go up, so does the price of gas, but not long ago there was such a tremendous oil glut that the price of a barrel of gas went negative. They were paying gas giants to take surplus oil off of their hands, and yet, at the pumps, the cost of gas remained relatively constant.
Today I read an article where a UN representative urged additional taxation of fossil fuel industry profits. Brilliant idea. If they’re going to be taxed anyway, that, too, cuts into their profits, so let them do the math and make more profit by charging less to the consumer. It was suggested that this profit tax could then go towards green technology.
So, should we begin targeting the profits of certain industries (education, petroleum, health care, insurance) to help prevent runaway inflation, or stick doggedly to our concept of unrestrained capitalism? I’m not a communist (and I have read the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx). In my opinion, too much has been left out of the theory of communism to work effectively (and has been demonstrated by many failed Communist nations), but at the same time, is unchecked capitalism any better?
I recall stories from the former Soviet Union where grains rotted in silos as they were awaiting distribution from an ineffective bureaucracy that, frankly, had no incentive to be efficient. That’s less likely to occur in a capitalist society as there is no profit in rotting produce, and yet, too much profit can be just as hard on the consumer as materials that have not been distributed. While Conservatives have been screaming “SOCIALISM” for decades, intending it to be an insult, more people are beginning to realize that socialism can be moderate. Socialism simply means caring for people who are in need (medically, with food, education, and so on). The flip side of socialism is to level the proverbial playing field. Taxing profits cuts into those who have too much (and who avoid paying taxes anyway) and elevates those breaking their backs to generate that profit. The oil industry has relied on government loans and grants to get their start, and that government income has continued unabated. So, what’s the problem with income for those who need a personal start?