The Breakfast Table

Bulletin: Not All Americans Rich

Hello again David,

Well, I’d put it a little differently. For health care–live in Canada if I’m poor or lower middle class, America if I’m rich. In truth, HMOs play the very role you attribute to the evil pinko government bureaucrats of Canada–insisting doctors denying care in order to cut costs. Certainly if your dad and others can bypass the bureaucracy and go to a private pay specialist, it’s better for them. But here in the U.S. a lot of people can’t do that. Perhaps we can agree that the goal should be for everyone to have access to the health care they need-including, by the way, CAT Scans, which needn’t be on every corner in order for everyone to get one when they require it. So how to provide health care to everyone, as cheaply as possible? A lot of people who have studied the issue–including the Congressional Budget Office–say cut out the insurance companies, stop using public funds to help them not only with administrative costs but with advertising for god’s sake. One more factoid from that book I mentioned: In 1990 24.8 percent of all hospital spending in the U.S. went to administration. In Canada the figure was less than half that…

On the stock market and Bell Atlantic strike–I agree that this is the nub of our political difference. Do strikes have no moral resonance? I don’t think so. During the UPS strike a lot of people around the country took the side of workers. The Bell Atlantic strike has been so brief, we hardly had time to learn the issues. But the huge increase in the number of temporary and part-time workers, whom employers hire for just enough time that they fall short of collecting benefits, which was at stake at UPS, is a major problem. So many Americans are in insecure jobs now, there’s a lot of concern about that. Historically, there have been much better moments for the labor movement, you’re quite right. But there has never been a labor section in newspapers, to give the opposing view to the business section. Wall Street lobbyists and the conservative think tanks have done a terrific job of trying to erase the truth that there are simply opposing economic interests in society. The Sunday New York Times Magazine had a terrific series of articles on the stock market, and the complexities of the current situation which you refer to–so many investors who are also working class. One article talked about the fix that employees are in, in effect betting against themselves by investing their pensions in company stock–lower wages, union-busting, lay-offs, and outsourcing to the Third World make the price of the stock rise. Good news as a stockholder, bad news as an employee. The irony is not lost on the “employee owners” who’ve been laid off. Another article chronicled the rise of a New York janitorial services contractor who worked his way up from cleaning floors to running a cleaning-company empire–a blue-collar success story of the Reagan era. He succeeded by underbidding his competition, driving out union firms, and cutting wages to the bone. Today, the average janitor in New York makes about $4 an hour less than a janitor made in the 1970s. The hours are crushing. It’s an even worse job than it was a couple of decades ago. The American Dream has always been that we can all be millionaires, which helps explain the pervasiveness of the CEO’s-eye view of the economy . But not all of us are. And for those at the bottom, things have gotten a lot tougher.

I’m off to TV-land. Hopefully I won’t get apoplectic and need to seek a doctor’s help!

Have a great evening …


Week 1:

Mon., 8/10; Tues., 8/11; Wed., 8/12; Thurs., 8/13; Fri., 8/14

Week 2:

Mon., 8/17; Tues., 8/18; Wed., 8/19; Thurs., 8/20; Fri. 8/21