Posts tagged "america"

Why Australia has universal healthcare and America doesn’t.

lemondifficult:

"Haha! Americans don’t have free healthcare!"

Yeah it’s actually a serious problem people are literally dying can this stop being a silly nationalistic insult?

This is very fair! Do us folks really feel so insecure about our national identities that we need to shit on poor folks in America to make ourselves feel better?

People tend to believe that the reason countries like Australia have universal healthcare and America does not is one of cultural difference. America’s individualistic culture, the story goes, encourages them to disdain a government service we have the good sense and decency to embrace. Americans themselves are wont to embrace this explanation: it satisfies their innate belief in American exceptionalism; for the left, it is a cautionary tale about the downside of capitalism*; and, for the right, it demonstrates that socializing healthcare is not worth doing because it is innately incompatible with the American psyche.

[*It also allows the American left to do one of its favorite things: use other countries that they have no real interest in learning anything about as a political stick with which to beat their fellow citizens.]

Those of us In Australia, at least, should consider that we perhaps are not too different from the United States in terms of our cultural relationship to government provided health care. Australians tend to have little understanding of the political history of our system of universal healthcare and how we have the Medicare system we consider to be yet more proof of our apparent superiority to the United States. We forget how ferocious the political opposition to universal healthcare was here, and how extraordinarily difficult it was to implement.

Australia’s universal healthcare system began in 1974 when Gough Whitlam’s Labor Party established the Medibank system. The ALP had taken power in 1972 for the first time since 1949, and set about introducing a number of reforms — it’s policies like universal healthcare that are the reason Whitlam is remembered as a prime minister who tried to do too much too quickly. 

Whitlam was unable to pass universal healthcare into law due to a hostile Senate — his party only had a majority in the lower house. He passed the bill eventually not because Australians have any particular fondness for helping the misfortunate, but because the Australian constitution has a mechanism for overcoming gridlock that the American one does not: the double dissolution. Having had his Medibank bill twice rejected by the Senate, Whitlam called a double dissolution election. Even after Labor was returned in the 1974 poll, it still did not have a Senate majority, and it could still not pass its health insurance bills. Whitlam could only enact universal healthcare in Australia thanks to the constitutional option of a joint sitting of parliament, in which the rejected bills could be considered in a single chamber that united the far more numerous House of Representatives with the Senate. This is the only time in Australian history a government has passed legislation in this manner.

It is instructive to compare this to two instances in American politics. The first is in 1971, when Richard Nixon tried to negotiate a healthcare bill with Ted Kennedy. This was not a universal system, but it did look something like what we know today as Obamacare: a mix of subsidies and employer-provided private insurance. Kennedy and his fellow Democrats rejected the deal — which he would later regret — expecting that they could implement a more progressive plan when they regained the White House. If Democratic tactics had been different in the early ’70s, America would be, at minimum, four decades further along the path to universal healthcare than it is today.

Alternately, consider the recent fight to implement Obamacare. Democrats had been campaigning on health care reform for years, and, in 2006 and 2008, they won, successively, majorities in the House and the Senate, and the White House. On the basis that election-winning parties implement the policies they took to the election, they set about expanding coverage of the US healthcare system. Activists hoped for a single payer system — which is what Australia’s Medicare is — but they lowered quickly their sights to a private system with a public option in a bid to gain bipartisan support and to neuter opposition in the Senate.

Note that, unlike Gough Whitlam in 1974, Democrats did have a majority in the Senate. In Australia, health care was consistently opposed by a Senate majority; in America, even the fall back of the public option had to be excised because Republicans — and some centist Democrats — filibustered the bill. Note that the filibuster isn’t a flaw in the American system as set out in the constitution: that document makes no mention of this method of legislative roadblock. The filibuster, which was so effective in making Obamacare as modest a reform as it was, is an accident of history. In Australia, Whitlam could overcome stronger opposition because he could use a double dissolution. The United States has no such provision; Nancy Pelosi was not permitted to dissolve the House and the Senate and call for an election, then ram through the bill in a subsequent joint sitting.

Let us now recall what happened after Whitlam passed Medibank into law. Conservatives repeatedly attempted to shut down the government (in the form of rejecting supply bills), then conspired with the representative of a foreign nation to overthrow the prime minister and have the opposition leader installed in power. They were successful. After winning a subsequent election, new prime minister Malcolm Fraser dismantled Whitlam’s universal health care system.

Labor was returned to power in 1983 and in 1984 it again created a system of universal health care — Medicare — which still exists today. It survived conservative opposition this time only because Labor held power for twelve further years, during which time Australian citizens came to view the system as a fundamental component of the welfare state and conservatives had to abandon their opposition to it to reassure the public they could be trusted in government.

Today, the Liberal Party is again trying to limit Australia’s system of universal healthcare. Australians, having had 30 years to get used to the benefits of universal healthcare, are aghast. Perhaps they will succeed in opposing the government’s planned reforms. But this is not the result of any cultural superiority Australians have over Americans. It’s because of differing constitutional and legislative quirks between our nations, and the whims of individual politicians.


That Australians have anything to teach Americans about coffee culture may come as a surprise to casual drinkers.

Oliver Strand, “Australian Cafes Arrive in New York,” The New York Times, July 29, 2014

Ha. Ha ha ha. Ha… America I love you but no. We got this.


City nerd housekeeping note.

Trying to talk about American cities can be a bit frustrating because America does this weird thing where its primary use of the word city is to indicate a governmental area rather than a socio-cultural urban space. By this reckoning, you end up with factoids like America only has 9 cities with populations over one million people and China has more than 160. This is how you end up with folks saying that Phoenix and San Antonio are among the 10 biggest cities in America, and behemoths like Atlanta and Miami are way down in the 40s — which is only interesting if you want to talk about administrative challenges at the local government level or maybe make comparisons between the history of annexation and incorporation by city governments in the west as compared to the east. But mostly it just means trying to talk about a Los Angeles in which Santa Monica doesn’t exist or a Detroit where Hamtramck doesn’t exist, and that’s just silly.

So I tend to avoid defining US cities by city population. But what to use instead?

The US also talks about the city using the far more intuitive frame of the metro area. But even this doesn’t entirely solve the problem; because there are a few definitions of metro area around, and not all properly encapsulate the city as entity. Just like I’d like a definition of Sydney that includes Parramatta (by which the city has a pop of approx 4.5 milion, I think it’s most sensible to use a measure, that, say, considers Seattle and Bellevue and Tacoma to be part of the same space, or Washington and Arlington and Falls Church to be of a piece but Baltimore to be a discrete place.

Primary Statistical Area seems too broad to me; good perhaps for discussing economic interdependence but too far-reaching to properly describe lived experience. I think a statistical measure that treats Trenton and Brooklyn as part of the same metropolitan entity is flawed for most purposes. Combined Statstical Area is likewise too expansive; Atlanta and Athens are not part of the same city in the way, say, Boston and Cambridge are. This is why I think the most useful definition is the Office of Management and Budget’s Metropolitan Statistical Area. It’s not perfect; I do wonder if the Inland Empire is distinct from Los Angeles and San Jose distinct from San Francisco–Oakland to the extent Chicago and Milwaukee are distinct from one another — if so, Riverside–San Bernardino is America’s fourteenth biggest “city” — but its definitions usually feel right and its population figures are logical for comparative purposes. Sydney and Boston being similar in size works. Sydney being four times bigger than Dallas does not.

In other news, Serbia is now on Streetview. Exciting!


Yoga Janet would make a point of sitting with me at meals, and we would chat about the Himalayas and New York and politics. She was appalled when a subscription to The New Republic showed up for me at mail call. “You might as well read the Weekly Standard!” she said with disgust.
Piper Kerman, Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison (2010)

Why Does Everyone In Australia Hate Pitbull?

I wrote an article about cool stuff in America like gay marriages and weed and abortion, and someone left this comment on it, for which I am very thankful.

I wrote an article about cool stuff in America like gay marriages and weed and abortion, and someone left this comment on it, for which I am very thankful.


Gould’s novel, Friendship, follows a best-friend pair through a turbulent period of break-ups and bad jobs in their late twenties and early thirties. After Amy and Bev meet as editorial assistants at a New York publishing house, Bev “start[s] making friendship advances toward Amy,” going out of her way to engage her in conversation. One day, she invites her to a concert after work; they start to take their lunch breaks together. One thing leads to another, and while eating sushi and drinking wine on a roof in Brooklyn, they make it official.

Alice Robb, “Grown Women Don’t Need a ‘Best Friend’,” The New Republic, July 10, 2014

In 2014, how on earth do you work on a novel-length piece of writing about people who work in publishing and eat sushi on Brooklyn rooftops without literally boring yourself to death?

Like, I totally disagree with Robb’s dismissal of the value of intense yet platonic non-familial relationships or the lack of artistic consideration of the same, but don’t people also have best friends in Kansas City? Or Columbus? Or Kinshasa? Or do New Yorkers actually really think the world needs a better understanding of the lives of New York editorial assistants?

I’m not asking for a moratorium about books in New York. I love books about New York! But if there isn’t something particularly relevant to New York about the story you’re telling — and, guys, I guarantee friendship wasn’t first devised in a Dumbo loft — then why not set it in any of the thousands of other cities in the world where real existing people also live and work?


On his recent visit to Australia, the American Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz was scathing in his assessment of his homeland.

"Countries that imitate the American model are kidding themselves," he told Fairfax, highlighting the US health care and education sectors as being particular failures.

If Australia were to imitate the United States, it could expect more inequality and worse results, Stiglitz said.

"You have to say that the American market model has failed."

Stiglitz’s words will be welcomed by those who have long suspected that the United States is a harsher, more ruthless, and less egalitarian society than our own.

[…]

Clearly, unless we’re talking about small bars or burger spots, “US style” is something Australians have firmly decided we would like to avoid.

But as brutal as America’s societal failures have been — and in some cases, as Stiglitz points out, they have been very harsh indeed — there are many areas in which Australia is far less progressive than its closest ally. We should not feel we need to race America to the bottom when it comes to the minimum wage or access to quality heath care, but that does not justify smug complacency about our own superiority.

Being a bit more American could be good for us

I’m in The Drum today being all yay America n shit.


More than half – 52% — of people surveyed said the former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, who was recently seen calling for President Barack Obama’s impeachment in a Breitbart News column, should just “be quiet.”

Ms. Palin, still a tea party favorite and who maintains an active television and social media presence, scored worse than fellow former pols Jesse Jackson (45%), Dick Cheney (42%) and Newt Gingrich (39%).

Mr. Jackson’s numbers are a bit of a mystery, given that he has not been in the national media much of late. More than half of people surveyed who are 50 years or older – who perhaps remember the civil rights activist when he was more prominent and a potential Democratic presidential nominee – said Mr. Jackson should be quiet. Only 35% of people aged 18-34 said the same.

The Journal/NBC/Annenberg poll was kinder to Bill Clinton (31%) and Al Gore (37%), though about half of Republicans said they would prefer that the 1990s Democratic team in the White House would be quiet.

Poll: Most Americans Want to Hear Less From Palin - Washington Wire - WSJ (via waitingonoblivion)

I mean, I don’t think this poll really means much of anything — you’re asking people about something they probably aren’t thinking about and have no means of effecting anyways, but the Jesse Jackson bit is interesting. Conservatives seem to still like invoking him as a proxy for Black People Who Say Terrible Things — Al Sharpton is another favorite in this realm — so I sorta suspect the poll finding is just that 45 per cent want black people in general to shut up.


Each national culture has a point about which it is most defensive, because on that point it has its own most serious doubts. You can’t provoke most Americans by pointing out that the country has had a very warlike record for a very long time. Many Americans view this heritage as an achievement rather than a failing, and even those who don’t aren’t likely to feel insulted or personally threatened by this critique.

Yet let a foreigner tell an American that the country is “declining,” and there will be a reaction. Denial, assent, an argument that there’s still hope — something. The intensity of the reaction obviously underscores the point that this is one of Americans’ longstanding sources of self-doubt. Other countries — Japan, Germany, England, Russia — have similar points of defensiveness. What is most deeply concerning to a culture (as for most individuals or families) is often the most difficult or infuriating for outsiders to bring up.

James Fallows, China Airborne (2012)

As Jim suggests in his still wonderful 2010 essay, “How America Can Rise Again,” this isn’t a new insecurity for the United States. I connect it to the nation’s exceptionalist roots — Winthrop’s City Upon a Hill; Jefferson’s self-evident truths — which create not just an ideal but also its negative: if America is the world’s last best hope, that means that hope might fail. To consider America to be the world’s one indispensable nation, we must imagine a world in which America has been dispensed with.

I’d add to the fear of decline that America’s other insecurity is the notion that it might not be united. I say, not infrequently, that to discern a country’s deepest anxieties, one must look to its name: Democratic Republics Of Wherever are usually not, and such. And the United States is so insistent on its unity because it fears so deeply that, unlike other nations, which are built on ancient ethnic bonds, its polity, built on ideology, might not be able to endure.

This is why the spectre of extreme partisanship is so important to American political discourse, why George Washington feared party politics, and why every president who comes along promises to mend the electorate’s divides. It’s why region is so important to Americans, and why the national bonds between Northerner and Southerner, or Easterner and Westerner, or between black and white, that appear so obvious to the outsider can seem so fragile to the insider. It’s why the Civil War is always so central to America’s understanding of itself and the way it shapes its future: this is the moment the country came closest to disunity, but was also its most forceful affirmation of its unity.

Jim goes on:

In modern China, one of these always sensitive subjects is the idea of China’s full “equality” or maturity in modern international society, especially to the white Western nations that for centuries have been in economic and political control. (Competition with Japan is a separate and equally tangled political question.) This is the significance of the phrase “Hundred Years of Humiliation” to describe China’s period of subjugation to foreigners and the repeated insistence by Chinese spokesmen on full dignity, equality, and respect in international dealings.

And later, on Chinese concerns of “splittism”:

Chinese people who are familiar with American history point out the many similarities between the current Han attitude and the drive toward Manifest Destiny thinking in the United States from the nineteenth century onward.

As for Australia’s national insecurity, I’m tempted to suggest something about fairness, but that might be too myopic, too concerned with current political disputes, and too ignorant of our underlying paranoias, the sort I can’t easily grapple with because, like all my countrypeople, I’m captive to them. So perhaps the correct answer is the question of whether Australia matters: are we influential, do people care about us, does the world realize that we are as important as we think we are? Or, to ground that question in familiar terms: has the tyranny of distance defeated us?

(I don’t know enough about Japan to guess at what its point of national defensiveness might be.)

[x-post]



1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10