July 19, 2011

Anecdotes about a free market

My vices are visible to anyone who knows me. Going to Starbucks a couple of times a week as the world goes to hell is probably not a good decision.

Friday I discovered that the pastry I normally buy with my coffee went up seventy cents. I hadn't been there for a few days, yet there was a long line of SUVs behind me and the adjacent lobby was full of people. Overpriced bitter coffee and sometimes stale or partially frozen pastry seems to be what the free market demands, at least in my little town.

My next stop was a half-day meeting for a charity, on whose board I serve. This charity serves thousands of individuals in our Tri-State area, both children and adults, with physical and mental disabilities. One of the topics we discussed was that the state reimbursement for therapy per quarter hour is significantly less than it was twenty years ago. That is a stunning statistic to me.

Of course this anecdote is just a smaller version of what goes on every day in our society, but this brought it home to me.

This organization provides services to more people with fewer employees and fixed costs have skyrocketed while both federal, state, and private insurance reimbursement has fallen drastically.

Of course, organizations like this have long depended on the generosity of corporations and private citizens to make up the margin through fundraising. Those glory days are long gone, as many of those with the gold are grasping tightly, unsure of how Moody's will rate our treasuries or what other catastrophe lies ahead.

I don't imagine Starbucks will be lowering its prices any time soon as it faces the same skyrocketing costs of goods and services.

Surprise. This is a rant. But I'm not ranting against the rich, nor am I advocating a "share the wealth" situation.  Not by any means.

What I am saying is that we have systematically dismantled our social safety net. That old cliche that a society is judged by how it cares for its weakest members is a great indictment of our country today.

We are willing to pay four dollars plus for a bad cup of coffee, yet we as a society don't want to pay taxes to support those who are truly in need.

The American dream has always been pushed forward by the free market, and yet we found ways to better ourselves as a society through government. Imagine what life was life for a single, elderly grandmother before Social Security?

America was the shining city on the hill that could do anything--and I believe still can be. Look at Hoover Dam, look at our interstate system. Now read this week's Time and see the bridge China built in a few years that is longer than our Lake Pontchartrain Bridge.

The dream of coming to this country and making something of yourself is what makes us different from societies with a caste or class system. The Warren Buffets of this country weren't born with the Windsor name behind them.

What happened? I suggested it was about January 1981 when things started to change. What did Gorden Gekko say in Wall Street? "Greed is good." Greed is not good. Profit is good, and profit that feeds a strong social safety net is good. Greed has fueled our problems and now we are nearly two countries because of it.

With the passing of Betty Ford last week, I could not help but think about Gerald Ford. Ford was the first person I voted for as President. There is not one candidate among the Republican hopefuls that I would even consider voting for. The Grand Old Party has morphed into something I don't understand and haven't since the days of Bush the Elder.

I am not naive enough to insist that the world of the 1960s white middle class Protestant was the way.  It was not.  We did not enact the Civil Rights Act until 1964.  Had I been a small black girl in Mississippi during that time, I would have had a very different life. 

I do wax nostalgically for a day in which Republicans and Democrats were at least civil to each other, and religion and personal attacks stayed off the dais. 

But my point is this: our progress as a society has stopped. Thwarted by greed.

This is no way to run a railroad. We are getting further and further off track. Rant over.