According to the New York Times, the Obama health bill is the first significant measure to reverse the wealth gap between America's rich and poor that has been steadily expanding since 1970.
Over most of that period, government policy and market forces have been moving in the same direction, both increasing inequality. The pretax incomes of the wealthy have soared since the late 1970s, while their tax rates have fallen more than rates for the middle class and poor.
Nearly every major aspect of the health bill pushes in the other direction. This fact helps explain why Mr. Obama was willing to spend so much political capital on the issue, even though it did not appear to be his top priority as a presidential candidate. Beyond the health reform’s effect on the medical system, it is the centerpiece of his deliberate effort to end what historians have called the age of Reagan.
The "Age of Reagan"? Might as well call it the "Age of Ruin." When Ronald Reagan entered the
White House, America was the world's largest creditor nation. In the breathtakingly short span of but eight years Reagan transformed the U.S. into the world's largest debtor nation. Reagan and Bush I and II were the only presidents since the end of WWII not to reduce America's debt as a function of GDP. Under them it skyrocketed to the near ruinous state inherited by Obama.
The Age of Reagan saw Americans become utterly stupid, willing to believe fantastic ideas such as their ability to live in wealth due to the endlessly increasing value of their homes. It wasn't just "casino capitalism" that brought America down, it was also "casino consumerism."
There were two types of wealth in America - real wealth and mirage wealth. Real wealth was what accumulated at the top among America's wealthy elites. Mirage wealth was the illusion of prosperity conjured out of cheap foreign borrowing and a bubble economy. It was scam wealth although it bought all the trappings of genuine affluence - while it lasted.
The Age of Reagan ruined the country and ruined an awful lot of Americans' lives. It allowed Washington, Wall Street and the American people to dig a horribly deep hole to the point where, today, their only salvation in the short to medium-term is another economic bubble. That's like a junkie relying on the next fix to keep the throes of withdrawal at bay.
For Obama and the United States, measures to arrest and narrow the wealth gap can help heal the damage done to the country and its people. On March 13th I addressed the sinister side effects of wealth inequality in a post, "A 'Must Read' for the Liberal Right." That post covered the book "The Spirit Level" in which two prominent British epidemiologists looked at the relationship between income inequality on half a century of data covering everything from mental health, drug use, physical health and life expectancy, obesity, educational performance, teen births, violence, imprisonment and punishment and social mobility.
Spirit Level compared every Western, industrialized democracy and also put America under a spotlight on a state by state comparison. What they found, and linked most persuasively, is that all of these blights on society worsen markedly (and predictably) as income or wealth inequality worsened. As income inequality diminished so too did these troubles. The authors also showed this wasn't just about the poor. Everyone but the very wealthiest suffered the scourges resulting from income inequality.
There's little question that America's rabid social Darwinism leaks across the border and into weak minds like that of our current boss, Harper. You might recall that, prior to his recent transformation, Harper subscribed to every bit of this made-in-America nonsense and even rebuked Canadians for our backward ways, the same ways that kept Canada from falling into the fiscal abyss created by the Americans.
I hope the New York Times has this one right and, if so, I hope Obama succeeds beyond his dreams. There are some who believe healthcare reform will be the spark that ignites social change in the United States. Among their ranks lie many hardcore congressional Republicans now struggling furiously to find a way to douse that very spark before it can catch hold.