History Repeated, this Time as Farce

“The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money”-Margaret Thatcher.

With a projected $1.8 trillion deficit for 2009, several trillions more in deficits projected over the next decade, and with both Medicare and Social Security entitlement spending about to ratchet up several notches over the next 15 years as Baby Boomers become eligible for both, we are rapidly running out of other people’s money. These deficits are simply not sustainable and they are either going to result in unprecedented new taxes and inflation or they will bankrupt us.

Health Care Reform, by John Mackey, August 14, 2009

I am not sure what to think about John Mackey, health-food billionaire, starting his piece with a quote from Margaret Thatcher. Either he is utterly ignorant of Thatcher’s violent regime or he means to call up an image of her reactionary politics, a kind of mindless mean-spiritedness, as the guiding spirit of his vision of the future. Who needs enemies if this is our friend?

I remember Mackey’s Whole Foods Market from its earliest days in Austin, Texas. Mackey’s genius, if you want to call it that, was to privatize the ideas of the local food cooperatives. The best known of these coops was Wheatsville Coop. (It still exists.) What Mackey did was to remove the democratic structures of these coops and replace them with individual greed.

Even more cleverly, he used the dietary philosophy of the coops as a kind of combination smoke-screen/ rationalization for this personal aggrandizement. He wasn’t just getting rich, he was helping to build a better world. Mackey was and is a master of this sort of new age euphemism. Like Wal-Mart, he doesn’t hire ’employees’ he hires ‘team members.’ He gets rich; ‘team members don’t need unions.’

Mackey rehearses all of his long-standing themes here, too, especially the notion that government should just get out of the way and let the health care industry fix itself. He also repeats the myths of shortages and long lines supposedly attributable to socialized medicine. I think anyone interested in education ought to pay close attention to this kind of argument.

It’s not just a good teaching moment for talking about the way market ideas become market fanaticism, and the way market fanatics often feel the need to falsify information in order to defend the indefensible. It’s also an good example of the arguments we will surely see as we try to defend the public school system against continued privatization. It’s just not funny anymore.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and Smarthinking.com. I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol] writinginthewild.com

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