The Value Driven Society

 

Values have been around a long time. To use a biblical (both Christian and Muslim) reference, Eve valued the fruit from the forbidden tree more than God's wisdom, trusted the serpent and ate the apple. “And the woman said, the serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.” God condemned the act and cursed the ground. Historically people were punished, persecuted and killed for their belief in Jesus as the son of God. Shiite Muslims have been persecuted by Sunni Muslims in Iraq for their belief in the Mohammed's grandson (Prophet) since about 700 AD. Both Muslims and Christians have persecuted Hindus for their beliefs and numerous examples can be cited encountering every religion of the world persecuting every other religion (Holy Crusades).

 

“Value is a term that expresses the concept of worth in general, and it is thought to be connected to reasons for certain practices, policies, or actions,” one of Wikepedia's definitions of the word value. Society's values are determined by what people desire and value is measured by what people will pay for what they desire, either in terms of money or as in the religious examples above sometimes with their lives.

 

In current society it is much easier to look at what people are paying as it almost always points to where their values lie. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”. If we look at the Middle East it is quite obvious that no matter what actions the United States takes, values will not change (at least not in the next 100 years or so). The Shiites will always value their beliefs, the Sunnis theirs and the Kurds will always value theirs and that will never change. All three will value the United States only as a means to an end to further their individual causes. They are clearly willing to die for their beliefs. They value religion more than monetary or worldly items, maybe with the exception of water which can be a contentious issue in the Middle East because it is so precious. Do they want peace? Probably, but who doesn't? But what is their definition of peace? For the Sunnis it might be having everyone become a Sunni Muslim and the same thing can be said for other religions as well, especially when you look into the past.

 

In the United States persons making the largest amount of money represent society's values (typical of a capitalistic society such as ours). They are CEOs of mega corporations, actors and actresses and professional athletes. This is to be distinguished from the wealthiest list of individuals which almost exclusively includes owners of large corporations, CEOs and their immediate relatives. Persons in the three categories above can make millions of dollars per year and they do so because the public pays them and values their services, investments or entertainment. It is quite clear that Americans value entertainment and their investments. Actors, actresses and athletes provide the entertainment and CEOs ensure their investments make money. This group also has a large amount of political power (for better or worse). They have the money and resources to inject their beliefs into the minds of the American public and influence the government as well. Sometimes this is good and sometimes perhaps not so good. An example of “good” would be the millions that Bill Gates donates every year to African countries and the work that Angelina Jolie does with orphanages. An example of bad would be an actor or actress getting directly involved in foreign relations or politics. “Hanoi Jane” aka Jane Fonda is well known for her protests against the Viet Nam war which significantly hurt Viet Nam veterans only doing what their country told them to do. Do people deserve to be wealthy? Absolutely, everyone always gets what they deserve. This is fundamental in a democratic society. Some would question the fairness of this wondering why a “celebrity” could own five homes and only live in them part time when people in Ethiopia are starving. Is there a better use of that money...? Some would argue yes and some no depending on their beliefs and values.

 

Religion clearly takes a back seat in American politics as compared to the Middle East . Our foreign-relations consists of a hodgepodge of individual special interest groups trying to represent their own interests in many cases above that of America's with little direction from the elected government. America 's foreign-relations are based on America 's beliefs rather than trying to understand the beliefs of the countries we are attempting to “work” with. It may not be possible to turn every country into a democracy or a Christian nation and THAT IS OK. Globalism induces change that is inevitable. Trying to prematurely change a society before it is ready is like trying to stop the ocean's waves from coming in at high tide. No matter what barriers are imposed they all are eventually overcome.

 

When one turns to the current political arena, the major issues are Iraq and Healthcare. In our value driven society where we pay premiums for entertainment and investments it is back to the basics when we vote, why the dichotomy? We are a “me” society. Entertainment makes us feel good, investments make us a tiny bit wealthier and we all need health care. It is interesting to note that two of our more prominent elected officials were entertainers, Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger. As for Iraq, I think we are all tired of going into more and more of a deficit when the end result will not change no matter what we do or how long we stay, just look at Viet Nam. Who would have ever thought it would have turned out the way it is now – popular tourist destination, thriving economy, etc. they did it on their own. We do need to remember to respect our soldiers when they return. They are there representing our country trying to do what they are told by their supervisors who are getting direction from our elected politicians (who were elected by YOU).

 

Healthcare is greatly influenced by the $$$$$. The U.S. spends twice as much as other industrialized nations on health care, $7,129 per capita. Despite this, in 2000 we were ranked 37 th in health care out of 191 nations. There are two primary market forces that drive health care costs higher for America than any other nation (and it is not quality, affordability or availability). The first is “Health Insurance” and the second is the “Pharmaceutical Industry”. Medicare administrative costs are about 5% per year. In contrast, health insurance companies siphon off 31% of all health care premiums paid every year. These go to CEO salaries, expensive executive benefits, administrative costs and….the stock holders – yes most of these are “For Profit” companies. The ones that are not, such as IHC (Intermountain Healthcare, a nonprofit) just find clever ways to hide their profits in the grey legal zone. In a way society is responsible for these giants because society is the stockholder. If one thinks about it, a health insurance company working for a profit can make a great profit by not paying doctors or hospitals, lowering their pay or delaying their pay. They can make patients pay more by inundating them with reams of paperwork until they give up. They can arbitrarily raise rates every year when persons actually use their health care coverage. Health Insurance companies can force patients with chronic illnesses such as diabetes and asthma to pay so much for health insurance that they eventually give up, go bankrupt (50% of all bankruptcies are related to health care costs and most of these are persons who had insurance the lost it due to chronic illnesses and the inability to work) and go uninsured or desperately look for an employer willing to take them on just so they can get health care benefits. This keeps the profits up and weeds out the sick, injured and unhealthy (the ones who need health care do not get it, does that make sense???). It does make sense to a profit driven company. Perhaps it is cheaper to let someone die rather than pay for their long term health care?? They can make preauthorization or coverage a living nightmare for some patients just so they can make an extra buck for guess who??? - Maybe you or whoever their stockholders are. Linking health insurance to employment is not a good idea. What if YOU lose YOUR job and join the unemployed ranks, then have a catastrophic accident? Suppose with your new employer you can not get health insurance because of a chronic medical condition. Tax subsidies are not the answer. Does it make sense to give a tax subsidy to someone who does not pay much tax who will not save much who then still will be unable to afford healthcare? Tax subsidies will only benefit the wealthy. They pay the most tax and stand to gain the most from such subsidies. Making sure everyone has health insurance is also not the answer. It is like feeding fuel to the already out of control fire. The health insurance companies will grow stronger and you will pay for it. They will of course continue to provide great coverage for the healthy. The only sound answer is Universal Healthcare or National Healthcare like every other country in the world already has. If you are reading this and already have health care then you might think this unnecessary, but if you are one of the 47 million uninsured Americans it will seem like a great idea especially when you look at the savings the government will make. PNHP (Physicians for a National Health Plan) has much information on bill HR 676 up before congress now. I pay about $10,000+ per year for health care and insurance and can afford it by sacrificing in other areas and not seeing the doctor as much as I should, but what about a family making $40,000 per year. Their costs may be about the same but it would represent about 25% of their income. Does this make sense? Of course not, The National Healthcare plan proposed by PNHP developed in part by some of the faculty members at Harvard Medical School would instead have a healthcare tax. You would pay a tax instead of a premium to an insurance company. For most and certainly the needy families the costs would go down and every individual in this country would be entitled to the SAME health benefits. Healthcare would no longer be linked to your wealth or prestige. You would not have to pay more for a “better plan” because it would all be the same plan. It would be your entitlement. Wealthier individuals would pay more and less wealthy would pay less as all other taxes are set up now. This is fair.

 

Pharmacy companies spend billions on marketing every year in order to brainwash the general public (you) into thinking they are a benevolent giant. It sickens me every time I see an ad wasting yet another million dollars. Do not be kidded. The money they spend alone on advertising would be enough to pay for every uninsured American. Very little research is done in this country by the pharmaceutical companies. Most of their profits are spent in marketing. If you look at new drug developments most now come out of Europe . National Healthcare will reduce drug prices and save everyone money because of collective bargaining. Learn about pharmaceuticals from your doctor or nurse or pharmacist, not ads directed at making you buy something you may not really need. Remember for every medicine you take there are about 100 possible side-effects, but the pharmaceutical companies don't tell you that.

 

Value driven pay by the hour is a leveling phenomenon that is always occurring and changing. Values can be measured by what society pays for the services, entertainment or care rendered. Sometimes it is difficult to explain or understand. Some feel cheated, some feel lucky. Rates can be influenced by unions and other collective organizing groups and many other factors. Unions have been a stabilizing force in the economy bringing worker's rights to workers that had none previously and generally no say in their employer's day to day operations in the past. Mine workers in Park City , Utah worked for a pittance in the silver mines making a very few very wealthy. There were no unions then to protect their rights and they had to give in to their often greedy employer's wishes and demands. It is this greed from CEOs, business owners and the like that spawned the unions themselves which ironically brought the demise to many corporations as they could not survive the increased wage and healthcare costs. A look at hourly rates is the most pure form of value measurement. A family practice doctor in private practice makes an average of $35 per hour when considering the number of hours worked, overhead paid and national averages obtained from the American Medical Association. Other physicians make an average of $35 per hour to $250 per hour depending on the specialty. Attorneys make anywhere from $150 per hour to more than $1000 per hour in part due to the highly litigious American society we find ourselves in. Computer techs make $90 per hour; some plumbers make $90 per hour, carpenters $25 per hour, truck drivers $60-75 per hour, nurses anywhere from $35-65 per hour. Teachers make very little (I am calculating about $18 per hour) but do get their summers off. The list goes on and is easily verified. As you can see there is no correlation with the length of time in school versus wages. There is no correlation with the needs of society versus rates. Most persons would think healthcare and education to be fundamental features to enable a society to thrive, yet it is not reflected in rates paid. This also extends out to such needed services as police and firefighters. Rates such as this may influence future persons making career choices which will in turn affect society. Everything is ultimately linked. There is no way to escape this fundamental intertwining that links all of mankind. The well –being of the Africans is linked to ours, etc. Whether a whale survives may be linked to our survival as well. We can continue to populate earth but until we can populate other planets there needs to be more of a cooperative effort in the survival game because we are all players, whether we like it or not.

 

Historical points do exist. This is not a doom and gloom paper but only a reality check. If we go back to the time of the Roman Empire, we find that sports figures (gladiators) were revered and honored (if they survived) as well as athletes – the original Greek Ancient Games (precursor to the modern Olympics) and soldiers with athletic prowess were heroes in their towns…Entertainers were common in that time as well and made a good living, not like those of today though. Television and media bringing these forms of entertainment to all have raised the stakes and salaries. Merchants, shop owners and the like did well in that time. So maybe we are not that much different.

 

My recommendations: Seek education rather than entertainment. Rather than watching sports, participate, you will be healthier and live longer because of it. Vote for national health care or someone who will bring it to our fine country, be nice to your fellow uninsured man even if you are one of the privileged who is lucky enough to have decent healthcare. The next time you want to buy something you do not really need instead donate the money to some charity. You will feel better because of it. Don't buy a pharmaceutical just because you see it on TV. Vote to make all pharmaceutical advertising illegal. It just stuffs their pockets with money and takes from the healthcare system. As for CEO salaries, cast your votes for someone who will seek to control exorbitant salaries.

 

Mark Hopkins

Flagstaff , AZ 86001

July 4 th 2004

 

(a proud member of the under-insured ranks)