Necessity is the mother of invention.
So wrote ancient Greek philosopher Plato. Stated another way, human creativity is often sparked into action to meet challenges in times of individual need and widescale crises.
During impending national security disasters prior to and throughout World War II, for example, which jeopardized the very existence of nations, the Allied powers mobilized to defeat the Nazi-Fascist menace.
Among the unimaginable horrors, the millions upon millions of innocent lives taken all too soon, the destruction of property and displacements of countless residents, the British government assembled its leading mathematicians and cryptologists for the purpose of breaking the Nazi secret code that connected its military operations on a daily basis.
The group was directed by a brilliant young gay man, Alan Mathison Turing, who was a pioneering computer scientist. He served as a mid-20th century English mathematician, logician, and cryptanalyst who worked during World War II at England’s Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park, and succeeded with his team of scientists and linguists in cracking the “Enigma code” used by the Nazi command to conduct covert communications operations.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill singled out Turning as the person whose work contributed the most to defeating the Germans. Due largely to Turing courageous and visionary genius coming from that mobilization, today we possess machines that have come to be known as “computers,” which not only simplify our lives by sharing information at the speed of light, but continue to save lives in ways unthinkable even in Turing’s time.
On the socio-economic and political scales, the war had the effect of relaxing, at least for a time, rigid gender and racial mandates of the time. As more men left their jobs to enter the military, the government and industry needed to fill vacancies with women who remained on the homefront. For the first time in their lives, many of these women - particularly women of color - have accumulated a degree of economic independence.
The iconic symbol of this newfound independence and breakdown in gender role subordination was Rosie the Riveter pictured across patriotic industrial recruitment posters throughout the U.S.
That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. — Friedrich Nietzsche
The current novel coronavirus pandemic has placed nations throughout the world on a virtual war footing in mobilizing the public to stay as safe as possible, to care for those infected, and to develop cures and preventive vaccines.
Even prior to the present crisis, the U.S., for example, had been woefully unprepared to meet the medical, economic, and social needs of our nation’s hundreds of millions of residents. The advent of the coronavirus exposed largescale inequities throughout the country.
On the medical front, the current pandemic has unmasked the fact that we lack the testing kits, hospital beds, devices such as ventilators, and protective equipment. While the rich and famous seemingly have access to the tests, most people who need to be tested must wait unreasonable amounts of time if they get them at all.
For millions of uninsured people, their only means of care are within hospital emergency rooms where they are often further exposed to contracting the virus and other communicable diseases.
For the working poor and unemployed, they often live in cramped and crowded spaces, in group shelters, and on the streets placing them at higher risks for dangerous health conditions.
Not only in the cause of fairness but also in the service of efficiency, we must look to the models of our peer nations, those liberal democracies that have initiated and successfully maintained government-sponsored healthcare system that have limited medical costs while providing higher standards of care for their people free from the profit motive that sustains the private insurance industry.
Yes, many of our peer nations too were unprepared for the vast scale of the pandemic, but they had in place a system that offered care more equitably and efficiently and at lower costs than the current U.S. system. Hopefully, they too will better plan for the next inevitable health pandemic.
Call it “national healthcare,” call it “socialism,” call it “graziggleitchenthorp,” or call it anything you like, but let us call it “the right thing at long past the right time.”
Maybe the current crisis will hold its grip around our collective throats for many months or maybe it will be short-lived. But no matter its duration, we as a nation cannot go back to the status quo before this unwanted visitor entered our midst.
Though the opportunity for change has always existed, we do not have to wait for another crisis to come our way for us to respond proactively. We need never react again.
Small government simply for the sake of maintaining some sort of conservative ideological purity stands as folly and is highly dangerous. We must, instead, permit government to step in and do what government has the potential of doing most effectively and efficiently. What has been seen cannot be unseen, but what has been learned can be forgotten. Now as ever, we must heed the warning:
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. — George Santayana
Epidemiologists sounded the alarm that his day would again come. They directed our leaders toward efficient and effective strategies in preparation.
Yes, some redistribution of wealth will be required. So will a redistribution of political priorities. One way is to break the code that locks the insurance industry’s healthcare funding.
As we collectively strive to get through the current crisis, we also must take a hard look at the areas of our socioeconomic and political systems in which government needs to carry an enhanced role.
- Our country must protect and increase our Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Unemployment safety nets.
- It must provide an efficient system of parental leave, paid sick leave, tax credits and governmental supplements for quality child daycare services, as well as universal Pre-K education for all young people.
- We must ensure higher salaries for our teachers and greater resources for our schools, and an equitable system of funding not as dependent on local property taxes, which currently results in unbalanced educational student outcomes dependent on the overall resources of each school.
- Government must guarantee a comfortable and secure place to live for every U.S. resident regardless of ability to pay, and outlaw banking systems against foreclosing people’s homes through scurrilous business practices.
- It must guarantee equal pay for equal work between the sexes, and the raising of the minimum wage so workers can increase their standard of living significantly above the poverty line. In fact, it must guarantee a minimum annual salary above that line.
- We must institute a true progressive tax structure where everyone pays their fair share, one that inhibits massive inequities in the overwhelming accumulation of wealth by the top income brackets.
- And yes, we must place effective restrictions on the so-called “free market” economic system that enables the creation and enhancement of mega monopolies, outsourcing of jobs, manufacture of defective products, and inhibition in the development of clean renewable energy technologies.
Even before the Cold War and the so-called “McCarthy Period” (named after Wisconsin Senator, Joseph McCarthy), individuals and groups on the political and theocratic Right have flung the term “Socialist” from their metaphoric slingshots into the faces of their political opponents to discredit their characters and dismiss their political ideas and policies, and to sway the electorate toward a Conservative agenda. This continues to this very day.
Maybe if more of us challenged the widening and inhumane inequities, where each person understood that we all have a stake and advance in the success of our collective economy, then enough would finally become enough!
Debates continue over competing ideologies not only in the United States, but throughout the world regarding the structure and purpose of government.
One argument rests on the ideas of John Maynard Keynes, a British economist who theorized that economic growth and reduced unemployment can be supported through governmental fiscal policies including spending to move the economy, decreased interest rates, and placement of certain restrictions on market economics.
Another and competing philosophy has come to be known as “Neoliberalism,” which centers on a market-driven approach to economic and social policy, including such tenets as reducing the size of the national government and granting more control to state and local governments; severely reducing or ending governmental regulation over the private sector; privatization of governmental services, industries, and institutions including education, healthcare, and social welfare; permanent incorporation of across-the-board non-progressive marginal federal and state tax rates; and possibly most importantly, market-driven and unfettered “free market” economics.
These tenets taken together, claim those who favor neoliberalist ideals, will ensure the individual’s autonomy, liberty, and freedom.
Neoliberalism rests on the foundation of “meritocracy”: the notion that individuals are basically born onto a relatively level playing field, and that success or failure depends on the individual’s personal merit, motivation, intelligence, ambition, and abilities.
Those who are, however, born into or enter difficult circumstances can choose to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” and they can rise to the heights that their abilities and merit can take them. People, therefore, possess “personal responsibility” for their life’s course.
During this presidential year, the lines seem clearly demarcated.
The neoliberal battle cry of “liberty” and “freedom” through “personal responsibility” sounds wonderful on the surface, but what are the costs of this alleged “liberty” and “freedom”?
How “free” are we as individuals when the upper ten percent of our population controls approximately 80-90 percent of the accumulated wealth and 85 percent of the stocks and bonds, and the Right’s agenda will only increase this enormous imbalance, and when corporate executives currently pay lower tax rates than their secretaries as the political Right fights to maintain these advantages for the superrich?
How “free” are we as individuals when 50 million people in our country go uninsured and their only form of healthcare is the hospital emergency room that the remainder of the population must pay for because our government will not provide a single-payer health care system, but instead, we all must accept the exorbitant profit-motive insurance premium rates of private health care insurers?
How “free” are we as college and university tuition increases and governmental student assistance programs dry up, pushing out deserving students from middle and working-class backgrounds, and when governmental entitlement programs are cut, thereby eliminating the safety net support systems from our seniors and other residents struggling to provide life’s basics?
How “free” are we when some presidential candidates promise to abolish the Consumer Protection Agency, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Education, and other governmental agencies, as the U.S. Congress threatens to privatize our national parks, and to loosen environmental and consumer protections of all kinds, and when mining, oil, and lumber companies lobby to exploit the land, and when they are granted enormous tax breaks and subsidies?
How “free” are we really when the political and theocratic Right push for school vouchers to funnel money into their parochial institutions at the expense of public education, and when forces are gathering to drive for the privatization of education for all of our children?
How “free” are we when politicians and business owners attempt to co-opt and decertify labor unions and eliminate collective bargaining? And I could go on in this vain forever.
Those of us who went through the war and tried to write about it…became messengers, [w]e have given the message and nothing changed. — Elie Wiesel
In our current times, many people don’t want to hear the message, and, therefore, we continue to repeat our history. How can we envision better times when we don’t know, when we don’t want to know, the past – from where we have come?
History informs our strategies for future change. History is a major foundation to our understanding of who we are and where we need to go, for history guides our future.
As present-day Allies, we must crack the code that is currently leading us toward disastrous instability.
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