Positive politics: health care

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve written something on positive politics. Let’s dive in to another completely non-controversial topic: health care.

I’m tempted a little bit to say “just read everything Matthew Loftus has written on the topic” and leave it at that. But that would be cheating, so I’ll leave that as a secondary recommendation.

Maybe this’ll be easier if I just state some positions first, then I’ll try to justify them.

  • A modern, first-world society should have among its goals that its people have the ability to get health care, including medical and mental health.
  • This ability should largely be independent of a person’s individual income level.
  • The only practical way this will happen is via government involvement including taxation and funding for care.
  • Provision of some sort of universal coverage would benefit the American people and society in measures other than just physical health.

OK, let’s dig in.

A modern, first-world society should have among its goals that its people have the ability to get health care, including medical and mental health

This seems like it should be almost self-evident. Government should exist to promote human flourishing. And humans will flourish much more when they have access to medical and mental care than when they don’t.

The ability to get health care should largely be independent of a person’s individual income level.

Again, because it encourages flourishing. Because poor people are currently forced to make bad choices about health care because they don’t have the income to make better choices.

Preventive care isn’t freely available, so treatable issues get ignored until they become emergencies. Emergency care gets used and abused for all sorts of inappropriate situations because it’s legally more available to the poor.

Health issues snowball and drive other societal issues. Lack of basic preventive care leads to more serious health issues. Which can lead to lack of employment, which makes it even harder to afford any care. Repeated or chronic health issues can lead to self-medicating with tobacco, alcohol, and drugs. Which leads to other health issues, and to deterioration of social relationships, and to crime.

There’s no just reason that only wealthy people should have medical care. And poor people might find it easier to work their way up the ladder if they had health care available to them.

The only practical way this will happen is via government involvement including taxation and funding for care.

I’ve heard lots of arguments for why this isn’t the case.

A lot of right-wing Christians will say that the church should provide for these needs. To which I say great, but that solution doesn’t scale. There are by rough estimates about 350,000 churches or other religious communities in America. American health care spending is roughly $3.5 trillion per year. That means each church in America would need to put $10 million per year toward health care. It doesn’t scale.

Update: a friend pointed out that church giving might only need cover the gaps, not the whole medical cost for the country – an excellent point that I missed here. But in 2016, per the Census Bureau, about 9% of the country was without health insurance coverage. So maybe the cost of the gap is only $1M per church instead of $10M… still doesn’t scale.

But there are other collaborative ways that people can band together to fund medical care! I know people who have been in faith-based health care cooperatives where everyone sends in their bills and the costs are split among all members. Great as far as it goes, but at the macro level it still fails the care-for-neighbor test.

Over the past few years we’ve seen a proliferation of social media campaigns for health care help. Donate to this GoFundMe to pay for my uncle’s kidney transplant! Or my sister’s cancer treatment! Or my friend’s medical expenses from his car accident! Seeing successful responses to campaigns can be heartwarming, but how many are there that go unfilled and wither in quiet desperation?

Provision of some sort of universal coverage would benefit the American people and society in measures other than just physical health.

This is closely tied to the point about coverage not being tied to income. How many people would take an entrepreneurial plunge or feel freedom to pursue some other dream if they didn’t have to worry about keeping a standard job at a corporation just so their family could keep health insurance?

How many people would have their mental, social, and community lives significantly enhanced simply by being healthier? How many people’s lives would improve from eliminating the mental stress associated with wondering how a loved one will get care?

But isn’t this gonna cost a lot? And isn’t the government super-inefficient at managing things?

Well, yeah, it’s gonna cost a lot. But the current system isn’t cheap or super-efficient, either. Multiple levels of for-profit for corporations involved ensure that everyone involved gets a cut. It doesn’t take much more than looking through a single hospital bill detailing hundred-dollar Tylenol, thousand-dollar titanium screws, billed costs vs. negotiated costs, and on and on, to recognize that the current system has significant issues.

I know it’s not a simple problem to solve, but the rest of the first world has found ways to address it, and America should too.


So let’s evaluate these against the five-principle framework.

1. Is it good for the poor?


2. Is it good for the planet?

I don’t know that it affects the planet one way or another.

3. Does it promote peace?

More broadly available health care should, in the end, help promote peace, since healthier people will be happier and more stable people.

4. Does it challenge the powerful?

If more equality in this area challenges the powerful, then yes.

5. Does it let the marginalized have a seat at the table to speak for themselves?

Indirectly, more available health care would help the marginalized be in a better place to be able to speak for themselves.

Bruenig: Dignity in work, dignity in rest

Washington Post columnist Elizabeth Bruenig makes an important point today when she says that we should consider not only the dignity and virtue of having a job and working hard, but also the virtue of having time for rest and pursuit of one’s own interests.

There’s a balance to be struck where it comes to work and rest, but in the United States, values and laws are already slanted drastically in favor of work. I would advise those concerned about Americans’ dignity, freedom and independence to not focus on compelling work for benefits or otherwise trying to marshal people into jobs when what they really need are health care, housing assistance, unemployment benefits and so forth. Instead, we should focus more of our political energies on making sure that American workers have the dignity of rest, the freedom to enjoy their lives outside of labor and independence from the whims of their employers.

Worth a read.

America is obsessed with the virtue of work. What about the virtue of rest?

It’s a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps

This little two-minute snippet of interview from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. summarizes an explanation of racist systems and a case for systemic reparations better than pretty much anything else I’ve heard. Worth considering.

“Now I believe we ought to do all we can and seek to lift ourselves by our own bootstraps… but it’s a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps. And many negroes, by the thousands and millions, have been left bootless as a result of all of these years of oppression…”

What will happen with the children of post-evangelicals?

Richard Beck has an insightful piece up on a topic that’s had me thinking. While he’s a decade older and from a different denominational background than I am, he and I have traveled a similar path from a strict conservative Christianity into a progressive post-evangelicalism. But what impact, he asks, does this have on our children?

Anyway, we were talking about how our kids now view the church. We’ve become liberal in our views and so we’ve raised our kids as liberals. We’ve preached messages of tolerance and inclusion. And we’ve been successful. Our kids don’t look on the world with judgment and suspicion. They welcome difference.

But we’ve noticed that this comes with a price. Our kids don’t have the same loyalty to the church as we do. We were raised conservatively, so going and being loyal to a local church is hardwired into us. We can’t imagine not going to church. It’s who we are. But our kids weren’t raised by conservatives, they were raised by us, post-evangelical liberals. Consequently, our kids don’t have that same loyalty toward the church.

So we were talking about this paradox in our small group, how our kids weren’t raised by our parents, they were raised by us, and how that’s made our kids unlike us. Especially when it comes to how we feel about church.

Basically, our kids aren’t post-evangelicals. They are liberals.

He goes on to say that he doesn’t mean that being a liberal is a bad thing, but that he wonders if his children will have a rootedness in a community and deep sense of belonging that he experienced growing up in a more conservative environment.

I’ve had similar questions about raising my own children. While I consider myself pretty solidly post-evangelical, as a family we have spent the last decade as committed members of a fairly conservative evangelical church. My kids attend Sunday School and youth group and get taught many of the same things I did when I was their age. Then they come home and I feel the tension keenly when we have discussions about hot topics that have come up – things like evolution, gender roles, religious tolerance, and historical and textual criticism of the Bible.

Maybe my willingness to stay committed to a conservative church gives lie to the claim that I’m post-evangelical. I guess that’s ok with me – it’s not like post-evangelicalism is a club for which I need to establish my bona fides. What I’m really hoping for my kids is that we can find a sweet spot in the middle – one that doesn’t view orthodox doctrine and social responsibility as an either/or proposition but rather a both/and, one that sees questions as a sign of a strong faith rather than a weak one about to shatter.

Maybe it’s truly the journey that has shaped my theology and Christian outlook into what it is today, but I’m holding onto hope that my children can find their path to a confident faith even through being raised by a meandering post-evangelical.

Farewell, Facebook

I just posted this to Facebook:

So let’s review what we’ve learned about Facebook in the past couple of weeks:

  • They allowed an app to do mass scraping of user data, including the data of friends of app users, and then didn’t reveal that information disclosure for years afterward.
  • The combination of that user data, along with the targeted advertising Facebook sells, allowed foreign entities to manipulate the electorate in unprecedented ways leading up to the 2016 US elections and the 2016 Brexit referendum in Britain.
  • They have regularly scraped up user’s phone data wherever possible, including location history, phone call logs, and the contents of text messages – including even those sent outside of the Facebook application.

At this point I think it’s fair to ask: is it really worth it? Am I getting benefit from Facebook that outweighs the cost of enabling this sort of corporate behavior and community effect?

There’s a truism in the online world: if you’re not paying for the product, chances are that you are the product. That’s certainly true with Facebook. And Google. And probably a lot of other online products and services. (It’s no accident that the products you search for on Amazon suddenly show up in ads on Facebook!) While we may never be able to get out of this model completely, there are steps I can take to do my part.

  • I’m switching over to use DuckDuckGo instead of Google for my web searches. DuckDuckGo doesn’t track users, making their money only via untracked advertising and untracked affiliate links.
  • I pay for email service from ProtonMail. It’s not as shiny and slick as Gmail, but they also don’t scan my email to target ads. (I still have a Gmail account as a backup… but I’m trying to not use it regularly.)
  • I pay for Newsblur as an RSS feed reader. I subscribe to ~500 blogs and websites via their RSS feeds… this provides me the bulk of my news on a daily basis.

Enough is enough.

So, I’m deactivating my Facebook account and deleting the apps from my phone. There are a few things I’ll miss, but many that I won’t. If you are my friend and want to stay in touch, there are still a multitude of available ways. I’m @cjhubbs on Twitter. I’m chris (at) chrishubbs.com for email. If you’re the texting type, hit me up for my phone number. Thoughts that I used to post to Facebook will instead be posted to my blog.

I have no preconceptions that this action on my part will change Facebook for the better… but hopefully it’ll be a change for the better for me. I’d encourage each of you to think about it for yourselves.

Is it the beard?

I’ve written before about my Swedish Doppelganger – the botanist Carl Skottsberg in his younger years, at least according to my sister-in-law. Yesterday I was alerted to another one.

Information on this alleged doppelganger comes to me from an older lady at church. She approached me yesterday to say that she watches the Jimmy Swaggart (eek!) TV program, gave me the DISH Network channel that she sees it on, and that Jimmy has a pianist who looks “just like” me and plays the piano “just as well” as I do.

I had to know more.

It turns out the pianist and band leader at Jimmy Swaggart Ministries is a guy named Brian Haney. And, well… I see the resemblance.



Brian again:

Me again:

If I had the time to dig up a few more pictures I’m sure I could find one of me at a piano that has eerie similarities to that one of Brian. I get that the white guy with the shaved head and beard is probably enough to trigger the churchgoing lady’s awareness, but I think there’s a little more than that.

I watched a few of Brian’s YouTube videos and the dude is a talented musician. I might be able to match his Southern Gospel piano riffs, but he’s got a voice that I sure don’t.

He does seem to have a tendency for unfortunately-named songs, though… “I Found The Lily In My Valley” and “When God Dips His Pen Of Love In My Heart” make me realize CCM doesn’t have an exclusive on unintended innuendo.

If you know of other doppelgangers of mine feel free to mention them… but really, the world probably has enough guys that look like me already. We don’t need to overdo it.

Finished reading: 2018, part two

Books I’ve read over the past month or so:

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
An utterly charming novel about a Russian nobleman confined to hotel “house arrest” after the 1917 revolution. His adventures interacting with hotel staff (which he soon becomes) and guests are full of wit and grace and humor. I don’t recall who recommended this one to me but I owe them my thanks.

The People Are Going to Rise Like the Waters Upon Your Shore: A Story of American Rage by Jared Yates Sexton
A memoir from a liberal writer who covered the 2016 US presidential election. Heartfelt, but not as interesting or memorable as I had hoped it might be.

House of Spies by Daniel Silva
OK, the Gabriel Allon series is getting old. I probably should’ve figured that out seeing as this is book #17 in the series.

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
I first became acquainted with Murakami through his Absolutely on Music book that I read a couple months ago. Having discovered he was a novelist I figured it was worth reading one. 1Q84 was just interesting enough to keep me going through its 900 pages. I guess it’s a love story at heart, albeit one with some odd and unexplained sci-fi twists.

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon
A YA sci-fi novel with strong race / slavery / gender themes. Interesting in that it tried hard to represent a lot of racial and gender diversity. Managed to do it while only a little bit heavy-handed with the message.

We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights by Adam Winkler
Heard about this one on an episode of NPR’s Fresh Air. Fascinating (to me, a bit of a con law nerd) history of how American law has treated corporations with regard to rights and freedoms. Some cases, it seems, have had unintended consequences as the years went by; Ralph Nader’s efforts to win corporate speech rights back in the 1970’s seemed meant to benefit ordinary people by freeing up information that the government had restricted. Those same rights were used as the basis 30 years later for deciding in Citizens United that corporations could dump unlimited money into political campaigns.

Crimes of the Father by Thomas Keneally
The author of the novel Schindler’s List takes on the Catholic church abuse scandal. Pleasant yet forgettable prose.

Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
Realized I didn’t know much about Malcolm X, and this particular biography was recommended by Ta-Nehisi Coates somewhere. A very readable picture of a fascinating man.