Friday, January 15, 2021

Is America Broken?

Is America broken? One would be hard put to dispute the point. Alana Newhouse, editor of Tablet, makes the case for brokenness, and she makes it persuasively. Many people are praising and discussing her essay, so we will also have a go at it. (via Maggie’s Farm)

She begins with a harrowing story about her sick child. She had always suspected that something was wrong with her child. Yet, all of the tests and all the great doctors kept reassuring her that nothing was wrong. Eventually, her husband came across an article that pointed them in the right direction, toward treatment for an undiagnosed condition.

So she raises an important issue-- what is wrong with the American medical system?

How was it, I then asked, that it took my husband and me—both children of doctors, both people with reporting and researching backgrounds, among the lucky who have health insurance, and with access through family and friends to what is billed as the best medical care in the country—years to figure this out, and that in the end we only did so basically by accident?

Over dinner with famed Canadian psychiatrist Norman Doidge, Newhouse asked how it could happen that so many eminent physicians could miss a correct diagnosis.

Doidge replied that the American medical system of broken:

There are still many good individuals involved in medicine, but the American medical system is profoundly broken. When you look at the rate of medical error—it's now the third leading cause of death in the U.S.—the overmedication, creation of addiction, the quick-fix mentality, not funding the poor, quotas to admit from ERs, needless operations, the monetization of illness vs. health, the monetization of side effects, a peer review system run by journals paid for Big Pharma, the destruction of the health of doctors and nurses themselves by administrators, who demand that they rush through 10-minute patient visits, when so often an hour or more is required, and which means that in order to be ‘successful,’ doctors must overlook complexity rather than search for it ... Alana, the unique thing here isn’t that you fell down so many rabbit holes. What’s unique is that you found your way out at all.”

No mention here of the role of government or insurance companies or the legal profession. In principle, Obamacare was going to solve these problems. Apparently it has not. As for my view, we would improve things significantly by getting lawyers out of the medical business.

At this point, Newhouse’s analysis takes a turn… and not necessarily for the better. She correctly identifies the cultural institutions that have been dominating our national conversation. But, she fails to see that these institutions have long since taken their leave of patriotic feeling. They have been systematically undermining patriotism. The results should have surprised no one.

In her words:

For seven decades, the country’s intellectual and cultural life was produced and protected by a set of institutions—universities, newspapers, magazines, record companies, professional associations, cultural venues, publishing houses, Hollywood studios, think tanks, etc. Collectively, these institutions reflected a diversity of experiences and then stamped them all as “American”—conjuring coherence out of the chaos of a big and unwieldy country. This wasn’t a set of factories pumping out identical widgets, but rather a broad and messy jazz band of disparate elements that together produced something legible, clear, and at times even beautiful when each did their part.

Considering how much of it was propaganda, how much the media was selling a narrative that tore down the country and diminished its achievements, we should not be surprised to see the country broken. One notes that the media has lately become far more explicit in its aims. Yet, this effort has been ongoing for decades now.

At this point, Newhouse starts asking what went wrong. She offers up the view of one Michael Lind, who believes that American business broke the country by offshoring jobs. This involved breaking labor unions. Like good Democrats Newhouse and Lind imagine that labor unions will solve all of our problems. One need but mention the role of teachers’ unions in damaging the minds of American children to conclude that we might be better off if we de-unionize the public sector, just as we have largely de-unionized the private sector.

Newhouse quotes Michael Lind:

The strategy of American business, encouraged by neoliberal Democrats and libertarian conservative Republicans alike, has been to lower labor costs in the United States, not by substituting labor-saving technology for workers, but by schemes of labor arbitrage: Offshoring jobs when possible to poorly paid workers in other countries and substituting unskilled immigrants willing to work for low wages in some sectors, like meatpacking and construction and farm labor. American business has also driven down wages by smashing unions in the private sector, which now have fewer members—a little more than 6% of the private sector workforce—than they did under Herbert Hoover.

Now that capitalism has emerged victorious over socialism and communism, some people feel compelled to tear it down. In so doing, they are breaking America.

They ignore the fact that Americans do not have the ability to do many of the jobs that were offshored. And it ignores the fact that cheap foreign labor makes more, better products available at prices that Americans can afford.

And it also ignores the simple fact that many labor unions have negotiated contracts that pay high wages but that make it impossible for companies to make a profit. One recalls the Dayton General Motors factory featured in the award winning film, American Factory. The workers had negotiated excellent pay, but the company went broke.

The important point is not how much unions can extract from companies, but how much value workers add to an enterprise.

But, Newhouse redeems herself by pointing out the ongoing assault on the American mind. 

The Obama administration could swiftly overturn the decision-making space in which Capitol Hill staff and newspaper reporters functioned so that Iran, a country that had killed thousands of Americans and consistently announces itself to be America’s greatest enemy, is now to be seen as inherently as trustworthy and desirable an ally as France or Germany.

And, of course, there is the systematic gaslighting that defines the transgender debate-- though it is not a debate when you only have a choice between accepting the prevailing orthodoxy or being canceled:

The biological difference between the sexes, which had been a foundational assumption of medicine as well as of the feminist movement, was almost instantaneously replaced not only by the idea that there are numerous genders but that reference in medicine, law or popular culture to the existence of a gender binary is actually bigoted and abusive.

America is being destroyed by groupthink. It is enforced through the educational establishment, where you have a choice between accepting the orthodoxy or seeing your career prospects evaporate:

A young Ivy League student gets A’s by parroting intersectional gospel, which in turn means that he is recommended by his professors for an entry-level job at a Washington think tank or publication that is also devoted to these ideas. His ability to widely promote those viewpoints on social media is likely to attract the approval of his next possible boss or the reader of his graduate school application or future mates. His success in clearing those bars will in turn open future opportunities for love and employment. Doing the opposite has an inverse effect, which is nearly impossible to avoid given how tightly this system is now woven. A person who is determined to forgo such worldly enticements—because they are especially smart, or rich, or stubborn—will see only examples of even more talented and accomplished people who have seen their careers crushed and reputations destroyed for daring to stick a toe over the ever multiplying maze of red lines.

Newhouse closes on a somewhat optimistic note:

The vast majority of Americans are not ideologues. They are people who wish to live in a free country and get along with their neighbors while engaging in profitable work, getting married, raising families, being entertained, and fulfilling their American right to adventure and self-invention. They are also the consumer base for movies, TV, books, and other cultural products. Every time Americans are given the option to ratify progressive dictates through their consumer choices, they vote in the opposite direction. When HBO removed Gone with the Wind from its on-demand library last year, it became the #1 bestselling movie on Amazon. Meanwhile, endless numbers of Hollywood right-think movies and supposed literary masterworks about oppression are dismal failures for studios and publishing houses that would rather sink into debt than face a social-justice firing squad on Twitter.


David Foster said...

"She offers up the view of one Michael Lind, who believes that American business broke the country by offshoring jobs. This involved breaking labor unions"...this is *way* oversimplified. US companies are not the only ones in the world. If American companies had continued producing, say, dishwashers in Louiville KY, without use of cheap foreign labor either for the final product or for key components, then there are plenty of non-US companies that would have been glad to do so and to undercut the US-company prices. How many American consumers would pay, say, 20% more for a Made in the USA product than for an equivalent non-US product? Some, surely, but probably not enough to base a mass-production business plan on.

It *is* true that many American companies gave up on US production too easily; that more, in many cases, could have been done to improve work processes and automate more of the work...unions, though weren't always exactly helpful in such efforts. And too many managements thought of manufacturing as a necessary evil rather than as a potential source of competitive advantage. This is surely related to credentialism in its MBA flavor.

Anonymous said...

Wait a minute! Did I read that correctly? A Canadian doctor has declared that the American medical system is broken??? Do you know where Canadians go when they are in need of immediate life saving operations?? The U.S.

Anonymous said...

Sam L. said...

My doctor was a South Korean jet jocky.

If America is not broken, the Dems and the media (but I repeat myself), are doing their damnedest to make it so.

Anon, that video was uggggggggggggggg-ly! Why am I not surprised...... Stupid advertisement. I do wonder why it was done.