If you want to understand any problem in America, study who profits from the problem, not who suffers.
The other day I heard from yet another neurofeedback practitioner who was informed by an MD to expect no further referrals. Problem was, the patients were not coming back to him. That was, of course, because they were getting well. (Full disclosure: I've been involved knee-deep in neurofeedback for thirty years. But this is not the topic du jour.) Here we have yet another instance of the system working in the interest of the service provider rather than the consumer.
This appears to be particularly the case in the field of health care, where the 'system' largely creates its own market. Failures in health care service delivery just bring about even more health care delivery. The system has largely insulated itself from market forces that should otherwise operate in a capitalist system. The customer plays a very small role on the demand side, and none at all when it comes to pricing. In consequence health care has become a growth industry consuming nearly 18% of GNP, a number that vastly exceeds experience in other modern economies.
The vaccine mandate recently approved in California is a case in point. It created a guaranteed market for all the vaccines that can get listed on the registry. More generally, our willingness to provide unlimited medical care to the point of death makes no sense except as a source of cash flow to the service providers.
But the problem is much broader. The prison system benefits from the creation and retention of customers--almost entirely involuntary in this case. There was a lot more interest in education once it became a potential profit center--again with a built-in market. The denial of global warming sustains a general dependency on petroleum for yet another generation--another case of a built-in market. Given recent events, it should be noted that gun violence is itself the greatest impetus to increased gun sales. Most productive are the mass shootings that make the headlines. We have here yet another perverse incentive that inhibits a positive societal response.
And to top it all off, the financial industry has morphed from the mundane task of capital formation to the dicey one of resource extraction from the economy. We are their captive market. Never have the financial titans flourished so well so rapidly as after the financial crisis that they themselves generated. Indeed, many in the industry are even looking forward to the next crisis. For them, crisis means opportunity.
Consider rapid program trading. It is utterly without socially redeeming features. It is a pure drain on the nation's productive activity. The claim that it increases liquidity is poppycock. Rapid trading is only done where liquidity is plentiful already, and in the event of a crisis, when liquidity is actually needed, program trading largely disappears from the scene. This is as pure a parasite on our economic system as can be found anywhere. Its only function is to extract rents from financial activity. The rent is small in each case, but cumulatively it is significant. (Each mosquito does not draw much blood from a caribou, but a caribou loses a substantial amount of weight to mosquitoes while trekking across the Arctic tundra.)
In a biological model, we have bifurcated into three species--predator, prey, and parasite; the predators prey and the people pray for relief; meanwhile, the parasite operates surreptitiously, beneath pain threshold and possibly even undetected. The invisible hand sanctifies the whole nefarious business. As Daddy Forbes said, no one is as innocently employed as when he is making money. Only the process has become less and less innocent as it seeks rent-seeking opportunity and takes advantage of market failure.
How does this wretched system sustain itself? The powers that be are doing a good job persuading the hoi polloi that the threat to their well being comes from the bottom rather than the top--from the immigrants; from the needy; from the undeserving underclass; from those seeking a higher minimum wage; in short, from all those who would surely regard themselves as better off under a socialist system---if only they knew what that really meant.
Conversely, the members of the predator class have done an excellent job of placing themselves on the side of the angels. Bankers are self-righteously indignant when Obama merely wags a finger at them; pharmaceutical companies claim to be the creative fount of medical innovation; Monsanto sees itself as the sponsor of a benign revolution in food production; Exxon assures our society's continuing mobility; and the whole petrochemical enterprise is giving us better living through chemistry. No questions to be raised. Meanwhile, the Fortune 500 have not created a single net job since Clinton came into office. On the contrary. Jobs have been shipped abroad by the millions.
We have just learned that white middle-class, middle-aged men without college education are increasingly killing themselves, in stark contrast to all other demographic categories. They are poisoning themselves, and increasingly succumbing to liver disease secondary to alcohol consumption. When did this trend first get underway? In 1997. That's when the Internet revolution came on strong, side-lining many from their traditional middle-class occupations. NAFTA was starting to bite. Matters got worse in this century, with manufacturing operations massively decamping to China.
Now we find that about half of this demographic is lining up to support Donald Trump. This support is driven by a very deep-seated anger and frustration. It is likely to persist. David Brooks recently drew on the wisdom of Eric Hoffer to shed light on this kind of radicalization. Mass movements of this nature, according to Hoffer, only occur when a sturdy social structure is in a state of decay. That is certainly what these people are experiencing. Their self-respect was tied up with their work life, as it is with most Americans. And that work life has just cratered, with no realistic hope of reprieve.
Understandably, someone in this position is not going to have much sympathy for the immigrant, or for the underclass. And he will not think highly of a government that places such concerns before his own. These invisibles hear one voice that is attuned to their rage. Unfortunately this is the voice of a member of the predator class. It does not offer safe harbor to those for whom it speaks.
Siegfried Othmer, Ph.D.
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