The Breakfast Table

Rhapsody, Cont.

You’re quite right: Canadian hospitals don’t charge for aspirin. That’s because Canadian hospitals do not keep count of this or for that matter any other expense. I once asked the administrator of a (not especially large) hospital near Toronto how much it cost him to treat the average patient with a particular health problem. “I have no idea,” he candidly confessed. Believe me, this is no way to run a health system. Or anything else. I’m glad to hear you say so confidently that all those CAT scanners around Washington are redundant–it indicates that you are in robust good health, which is good news for all of us who enjoy watching you on television. Personally, though, I’d rather have the decision about how many CAT scanners my city needs made by people whose business will suffer if they guess wrong rather than by the gnomes of a Finance Ministry deciding how much health care the government can afford after paying the interest on the colossal national debt (70% of GDP!) it ran up to finance those social programs you so admire.

I’ll agree it’s more convenient to present a plasticated card with your photo on it than deal with the American system with all its wearisome paperwork; that’s especially true if you don’t happen to need something that the system cannot provide, like anesthetic for women who give birth after 5 pm. It’s nice that Larry Haven didn’t see a bill for his heart attack. (Not until April 15 anyway.) Even nicer that he didn’t need an EKG beforehand. When my father-in-law was in a situation very similar to Mr. Haven’s a few years ago, he discovered that the wait in Canada for tests–even for a patient in urgent need of surgery–was six weeks. He flew to Cleveland instead and had the test done the same day.

All of this is why I usually answer, when I’m asked as someone who’s lived under both systems which I prefer, “Canada if I were well; America if I were sick.”

Speaking of the demise of socialism, are you as struck as I am by the media treatment of today’s two top business stories: the stock market slide and the settlement of the Bell Atlantic strike? Time was when a strike was big news–virtuous cloth-capped workers facing off against greedy managers, etc.–in which it was presumed every laboring person had an interest. The stock market, by contrast, was an abstract economic indicator, of interest only to a handful of investors and an even smaller handful of economists. Today, some 50 million Americans are invested in the market, and fluctutations up and down directly and immediately add to or subtract from their wealth. A strike, by contrast, is now seen to pit one interest group against another and has no more moral resonance than a dispute between truckers and packers over what the freight on a ton of produce should be.

You’ll probably reply that, as a Progressive you are supremely indifferent to the market. But think again. One reason that Bill Clinton has hung onto a 65% job approval rate despite his 35% personal approval rate is that those 50 million Americans I was talking about before have seen their portfolios almost quadruple in value since 1992. They might not have given Clinton the credit but they not unreasonably were disposed to keep him around, on the same theory (as somebody has recently joked) that a baseball player might wear the same pair of socks during a hitting streak. Bad luck for him if the market is still dropping on the 17th. It might cause the American public to conclude that its lucky pair of socks is starting to stink.