Tuesday, January 3, 2017

William H. McNeill and The Logic of Universal Health Care

With the Republicans chafing at the bit to repeal Obamacare, and replace it with who knows what, I thought it was time to roll out an argument I made in favor of government-financed heath care back in 2008.

It comes from an unlikely source, and he doesn't provide an argument in favor of universal, government supported healthcare himself or per se.  But his histories of modern civilization - unusual, anthropological, widely respected - lead to just that.

In two books, both of which I read shortly after they were written, decades ago, William H. McNeill provides the following templates for understanding human history.  Throughout our existence as a species, he explains and demonstrates, we humans have done all we could, mustered all the knowledge and technique at our disposal, to counter two kinds of parasites: macro-parasites and micro-parasites.

A macro-parasite is anything in our general size range - wild animals, other humans.  Parasitical humans can attack individually, as in someone who murders, robs, or otherwise assaults someone else, or en mass, as when a horde or army or airplane force attacks.  In order to counter such attacks, everyone recognizes that we must rely on government - in general, police against individual marauders, military against mass invaders.   Even conservatives who want to limit government spending acknowledge and support this need.   Only a stone-cold anarchist would deny it.

Micro-parasites, as the name suggests, are bacteria, viruses, and tiny things that make us sick, and can kill us.   Most people do recognize that, at very least, the government is needed to help research these illnesses, develop vaccines and cures, etc.

And that is where McNeill's analyses, presented in two books - Plagues and Peoples and The Pursuit of Power - ends.

But I would now add: where is the logic in not extending government support and financing for personal medical care?   What is the difference between paying for a police force, and paying for a force of doctors - the first to help protect from macro-parasites, the second from micro-parasites?

I hope Republicans think about this question as they seek to do away with the Affordable Care Act.

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