Monday, October 25, 2021

We Have It So Awful! (No, We Don't!)

Is America a festering shithole place to live?  Why do so many people want to move here, even from other Western countries?  Maybe things aren't as bad as they seem!

A reader writes, in response to my previous posting, that I am naive that America isn't some festering third-world country ready to collapse at a moment's notice.  And I don't blame the reader for thinking that - the Internet is full of sites, comments, and articles, all translated from Russian, making the same point.

But is the USA so bad?  Let's look at things in a real light:

1. Health Insurance:  The "meme" put up by people who never lived in the United States is that medical expenses can top $8000 per month (no, they really say this) which is higher than the annual deductible for an Obamacare plan.  Right now, I pay about $250 a month for an Obamacare plan (last year, it was free - I could go to a smaller plan for free if I chose to do so).  So the idea that masses of people are without health insurance is a little overstated.

UPDATE: For 2022 my monthly cost goes back down to $0 for some reason.  I think I can swing that.

Yes, there are a few die-hard MAGA-hat wearing idiots who refused to sign up for the plan.  One fellow realized his error when his wife was diagnosed with cancer.  He quickly changed his mind about Obamacare as well as a lot of other things.  He finally woke up and realized that the people egging him on to do stupid, self-destructive things in the name of "greater issues" were just using him. And yes, most of those people he "met" online were not from the USA.

Others have health insurance through their employer.  I've had health insurance my whole life, because I worked for a living or qualified for Obamacare - and shortly will qualify for Medicare.  That doesn't mean I get "free" medical care after age 65.  I have to sign up for supplemental plans at that point as well.

If I was too poor to qualify for Obamacare (irony!) I would (or might) qualify for Medicaid.  And if for some reason, I fell through that crack, well, if you end up in the Emergency room, they will send you a bill you can never possibly pay, which means declaring bankruptcy - and you don't pay it.  Sounds dramatic, until you realize that the folks in such a situation generally have zero assets anyway, so they are not losing anything, other than a debt.   Even for middle-class people, such debts are negotiable, in terms of monthly interest-free payments or outright slashing of the overall bill.  The foolish thing to do is to pay the bill on a credit card - then the debt is harder to discharge.

Is this patchwork system better or worse than "Socialized Medicine" we see overseas?  Well, it would be nice if we had a "single payer" system, but if you talk to people from the UK and Canada, they have their own horror stories about "National Health" as well.  Overall, I think they like their system, but it doesn't run any more efficiently than our crazy system over here.  In fact, it can run far worse, and the people who have money do end up getting better care, as they can afford to go out of the system or even out of the country - indeed, often to over here.

Our incentive-based system is flawed, but then again, it tends to reward performance, which is why so many drugs and procedures are developed here in the USA, as the profit incentive exists here.  Sure, they sell life-saving pharmaceuticals in other countries for cheaper - but they might not ever have been developed, if the prices were fixed from the get-go.   So goes the argument, anyway.

It is interesting, but the USA was at the forefront of developing vaccines for the Corona Virus.  It's just a shame we can't get certain people to take it - often the same people who think our country is a shithole.  But Darwin is cleaning up that mess as we speak.  There is a whole forum online devoted to people who claimed the virus was a hoax or whatever - and died from it.  You can read their tweets over time - denouncing the vaccine and masks and whatnot.  The second-to-last tweet in the series will say how the person in question is now in intensive care, and the last tweet is their obituary.  In a few cases, the victims have a road-to-Damascus conversion, but only after the virus has ravaged their body and probably reduced their lifespan by a decade or more.  You can't fix stupid.

But this is the "Freedom!" that people are agitating for, and in the USA it exists more than anywhere else in the world.  Yes, we are free to do idiotic things.  No "nanny state" telling you that you can't have an assault rifle.  But then again, no one to blame but yourself when you accidentally shoot your kids with it.

2. Homelessness: This seems like a festering problem, particularly if you live in a major city in California and some sainted homeless people are shitting all over your sidewalk, pissing on your doorstep, and breaking into your car (not to mention screaming randomly and sexually assaulting your children).  Yea, mentally ill drug-addicted people are a load of fun!

And that's what they are: mentally ill drug-addicted people.  They are NOT "down on their luck" or just in-between jobs or whatever.  People who really are in financial trouble are NOT living under a bridge and stealing stuff for drug money, they are trying to get their life together - and there are a host of organizations, public and private, who will help such people - and do.

The drug-addicts living under a bridge don't want to better themselves - they want to get high as possible.  The good news is, this "homeless crises" constitutes a fraction of a percent of the population.  It is not some great crises that some make it out to be.

The real issue is again, our "Freedom!" which we cherish so much.  Freedom not to pay taxes (as our European neighbors do) to support mental health facilities and drug rehabilitation centers.  Freedom to live under a bridge without being hassled for "vagrancy."  Freedom not to be involuntarily committed to a mental hospital unless you actually kill or seriously injure someone.

Again, the people who run down America in one breath are the same ones who decry "socialism" or higher taxes to pay for mental health care.  Make up your freaking minds, people!

Yes, when I was a kid, we didn't have a "homeless problem" because we had mental institutions across the land.  If you were caught wandering around muttering to yourself or screaming at the squirrels, they hauled you off to the State Home and you had to live there.  We had a "homeless problem" but it was kept under wraps - institutionalized.

In the 1970's we all saw (and read) One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and thought that mental institutions were cruel (and indeed I am sure some were).  Politicians saw a wave to ride - close the hospitals and cut the budget at the same time!  And our friends in the pharmaceutical world offered a solution with a new range of drugs, which worked, sort of, if people kept taking them.  But the first thing a crazy person does when they get well is stop taking the medications, which with the side-effects, is pretty understandable.

But this is not just an American problem - our Western allies have the same problem, although perhaps not as bad - it's worse!  Germany has 650,000 homeless, which is lot, given the size of the country.  It is actually more than we have in the United States, by some counts.

Once again, "Freedom!" rears its ugly head. In Afghanistan today, the Taliban is rounding up drug-addicted homeless people who are literally living under bridges in Kabul, and forcibly putting them in "rehab" centers after shaving off their hair (for some reason).  In a totalitarian State, you can do that - force people to not do drugs and not be homeless.  In many Asian countries, the penalties for using or dealing drugs are severe - even death.  People still do drugs, though.

Meanwhile, in America, we have legalized some drugs and people are seriously talking about legalizing others.  Freedom!   Ready to give that up?

Uh, wait, what was the issue?  That life in Europe is better than here in the USA?  This is worth overthrowing our government for?  Once again, we are throwing away something good for nothing.

3. Income Disparity and Poverty:  Again, it is taken on faith that America is a horrible place, with everyone living hand-to-mouth and paycheck-to-paycheck while Jeff Bezos drives his Lamborghini around the deck of his super-yacht.  The reality is something different.

While income "inequality" has risen over time, the fact remains that the USA is one of the richest countries in the world and our standard of living is higher than most other countries, including most other Western democracies. 

Yes, I know, life is better in the UK - even after Brexit!  But the reality is something different than that.  A middle-class existence there is to own a small car and live in a row house with a tiny twee garden in back.  Nothing wrong with that, of course, but it is a lesser existence than what the middle-class, or indeed, even the poor have, in America. Food over there costs more, fuel alarmingly so, and people typically don't have the four or five cars parked in the driveway as we do in the States.

Europeans, we are told, are alarmed by how many bathrooms we have - usually one for each person in the home - ditto for television sets, computers, and smart phones.  Nearly everyone in America has a car - and often this is only because you have to have one to live here.

But is our way of life better or worse than theirs?  To some extent, this is a philosophical question - having less often means having more, as I have learned over time. But on the other hand, I suspect most Americans would be loathe to give up their lifestyle to live overseas, even if the food is much better there (but costs twice as much).

Again, this "Freedom!" thing rears its ugly head.  People in the USA make good money, but they spend a penny more than they make - and run up credit card debt as a result.  They feel put-upon by banks and finances because they don't manage their money well.  Maybe overseas they have better "Nanny-State" protections to keep people from buying timeshares or joining Scientology (which is basically illegal in Germany).

America?  You are free to blow your brains out, quite literally.  Sign your life away in a contract.  Join a cult religion - your freedom to do so is guaranteed in the Constitution.   You are expected to be astute when it comes to finances - yet so few of us are.

Maybe it would be better if we had more regulations to prevent such malfeasance.  Maybe higher taxes on the rich would equal things out.  Maybe - but these things are hard to enact, particularly when the very folks who would benefit from such social change are the ones most dead-set against it.

Look at the pictures of the January 6th rioters.  See any Billionaires in the crowd?  Probably not even a millionaire.

But again, historically these things run in cycles.  We had very high taxes (well over 50% marginal rates) back before I was born.  Over time, these have been cut back.  I suspect they will go up again in the future, but it won't happen overnight.  It will take a lot of people voting and organizing to make it work.  But as recent elections show, it can be done.

On the other hand, overthrowing the government and installing a fake-blonde-haired weak strong-man with orange skin will do little, other than to insure that the rich get richer.

Just because social change doesn't occur on a timetable to your liking does it mean the whole system is utterly broken and should be discarded.

* * *

Oddly enough, another reader writes:

I think the idea of just tuning out seems like the remaining plausible alternative - irrespective of which side of the isle you lean. I talk to buddies who are on the opposite side and they are seeing it too. Maybe all these stories of angst and drama are there to distract and divide. Who knows.

All of that said. It’s getting into fall and we need to clean out the garage. Mulch the beds and get the car winter ready. Those activities seem a much better use of time!
He gets it.  Being "outraged!" all the time doesn't make your life better - it makes it worse.  It also makes you a prime pawn for someone else.  Vote.  Donate money to political campaigns, if you can. But protesting and rioting aren't going to improve your life, but make it worse.  Not getting vaccinated to "prove a point" won't make your life better, but will likely end it.  Yet so many people concentrate most of their energy in these fruitless pursuits, while letting their personal lives disintegrate.

Of course, that is the point.  It is all about Externalizing.  If you fail at life, it is a lot easier - and more convenient to blame others for your woes rather than to look inwardly and see what you could have done differently.  It is easy to say "hormones make me fat!"  It is harder to say, "I shouldn't have ordered that huge entree at the fast-casual restaurant - and a little exercise wouldn't be a bad idea, either!"

You know the type, too.  You've met, no doubt, in your life, the loser who has been fired from several jobs, and each time, he has an excuse as to why it "wasn't his fault" that he got fired.  The boss was an asshole, he'll tell you.  And he wasn't sexually harassing that secretary at that other job - women, right?  And the  last place - they accused him of stealing, but they couldn't prove anything!  If you haven't met "that guy" yet, become an employer - you'll met him, eventually.  Hopefully you don't hire him.

I came from a family of outraged! people, and early on in life, I learned that being outraged! was the thing to do.  There are greater issues at stake! - that's the rallying cry of the outraged! types.

I had friends and family members who went down this path - their personal and family lives were often in a ruin, but they could give you the latest dope on the Kennedy Assassination - as if decoding this event from 60 years ago would somehow balance their checkbook. People get into debt, lose jobs, lose spouses, lose careers - but they don't stop.  Perhaps they can't - it is like gambling addiction.

And yes, this is something to be outraged! about, but being outraged doesn't help much. A lot of these people who are sucked into Qanon or Anti-vaxxing or Stop the Steal are not going to quit cold turkey.  So don't bother trying to talk them out of it.  It would be as fruitless as trying to talk someone out of an MLM scheme or Scientology - your "resistance" merely confirms to them they are right.

It sounds heartless and cruel, but the best thing you can do for society is look out for yourself.  If a friend is about to drive their car off a cliff, make sure you are not in the back seat.   The world needs more rational people - rational actors - in our society.  Becoming unhinged because others are unhinged isn't solving anything, it is in fact, making it worse.

And in that regard, if you listen to all this crap in the news and online and start to believe that the United States is a "shithole" as our first reader suggests, it will do nothing to make your own life better, but instead lead you down the rat-hole of depression and obsessing about conspiracy theories and other nonsense.

That's the irony of it all - the very people who obsess about politics rarely contribute to political campaigns or even bother to vote.  "Why bother?" they will tell you, "the whole thing is rigged anyway!"  This is real brain-trust thinking!

The world is a beautiful place, but that is not reported on the "news" because the "news" by definition is just reporting about bad things that happened, just as "history" is a recounting of wars and disasters, not the positive things in life or extended periods of peace.  The Titanic sinking was a "news" story and history.  If they had missed that iceberg by ten feet, well, it would not have been either.

So walk away from obsessing about politics and "the news" - and negative thinking in general.  The difference between successful people in this world, and the great unwashed masses boils down to one simple thing:  Successful people are not chronically depressed, nor do they obsess about things other than what is on their own plate.  As a result they get to manipulate the world more than you do.  This is why we call them "movers and shakers".

Learned helplessness, on the other hand, is a great way to keep people passive and inactive.  And sad to say, platforms like "social media" and network television are designed to make you passive and helpless - to keep you outraged about your situation in life, but prevent you, at the same time, from doing anything about it.

And it goes without saying, preventing you from seeing how good things actually are....