Is healthcare a right or a privilege?

Healthcare is probably the single biggest issue in our country right now, as republicans try to dismantle our current system and progressives push for single payer healthcare. Indeed, more Americans than ever are interested in single payer healthcare: 33% say we should adopt such an approach to healthcare (up 14% from 2014), and 60% say that the federal government has a responsibility to ensure its citizens have healthcare coverage (whether that be public or private).

This stands in stark contrast to the current republican government’s approach to healthcare, which, judging by the legislation they’ve written, is that you should only get healthcare if you can pay for it. Naturally, republican politicians have taken to all forms of media to speak out against single payer healthcare.

But really, there isn’t much of a data-driven argument against single payer healthcare. We know that it’s significantly cheaper. We know that the health outcomes for people tend to be the same, if not better. No, people in Canada and Sweden aren’t dying in the streets because of “rationed care.”

The main objection to single payer healthcare, as far as I can tell, is completely philosophical and boils down to one simple question:

Is healthcare a right or a privilege? 

Ask most conservatives and they’ll probably tell you it’s a privilege, not a right. I’ve had numerous conversations about that with people lately, and I’d like to closely examine this argument.

There’s an underlying assumption in this conservative argument that healthcare is a privilege, namely that there is some finite amount of rights in existence, and everything else is just a privilege. The conservative argument that healthcare is a privilege seems predicted on treating rights as if they’re matter or energy–they can be neither created nor destroyed.

To that end, many conservatives use the constitution as the end-all-be-all of rights. If it isn’t in the constitution, it isn’t a right and therefore must be a privilege. This meme perfectly illustrates this line of thinking:

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This is a particularly bizarre argument given that the founding fathers purposely created a constitution that can be changed, amended. And indeed it has been, 27 times. 100 years ago this meme could have said, “Trying to find in the constitution where it says women have the right to vote.” Or you could have run this meme in 1859 to say, “Trying to find in the constitution where it says black people aren’t personal property.” It’s just a foolish argument.

But the point is that rights aren’t some static, finite thing. You’re given new ones all the time. The 26th amendment gave 18 year olds the right to vote. The 17th amendment gave you the right to vote for your own state senators. Prior to those amendments being written, those rights did not exist.

Similarly, rights can be taken away. The 18th amendment took away your right to manufacture or sell alcohol. That one was repealed, thankfully.

The ultimate point here is that rights aren’t written in stone. We give ourselves new rights all the time, as the previous examples showed. So why couldn’t healthcare become a new right?

It almost was. FDR was on the verge of introducing a second bill of rights in the 40’s, shortly before the end of WWII.

Unfortunately, FDR didn’t live long enough to see this enacted, and it became a mere footnote in American history. I’m sure though, that many conservatives would argue that FDR was some kind of communist for this proposal. Ironic, given that in this short speech he seems intent on protecting free markets.

So then, what would be the argument that healthcare is indeed a right? Well, if you’re having a conversation with someone who wants to use to constitution as an argument that it’s a privilege, try giving them this line:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

It’s right there in the preamble. “Promote the general welfare.” What’s the argument that single payer doesn’t fulfill this part of the constitution? Or, conversely, how does a “you can have it only if you can pay for it” model promote the general welfare?

But, one might argue, even if healthcare were a right, that doesn’t mean that government run healthcare is. Perhaps it’s simply a matter of the government ensuring that you have access to affordable care. On the surface, this seems like a valid argument.

Well, this is where I would point out that single payer healthcare is vastly cheaper than the alternative. But even ignoring that point we could still make an argument for it. If we were to argue that “promote the general welfare” means that the government is obligated to look after the health of its citizens, that doesn’t necessarily follow that you need to use it. If you want to buy your own private insurance, you should be free to do so. And indeed, in many countries with single payer healthcare, citizens have every right to buy their own supplemental or private coverage. Just because the government offers a single payer option to its citizens doesn’t mean your right to choice vanishes. Indeed, perhaps a little competition between the government and private industry would be a good thing.

If nothing else, we could look at this issue through an ethical lens. If your neighbor was dying and could be saved, but he doesn’t have the means to save himself and you do, are you ethically or morally obligated to help him? What would you want if you were the dying neighbor?

Ultimately, I think I can walk away from this post to leave you with a couple of ideas. First, in reality, there is very little difference between a right and privilege. Indeed, I might argue that a right is simply a legally protected privilege. Which means, as we’ve seen throughout history, we are capable of being granted new rights if we demand them, if there’s a referendum on them. Second, if a government has an obligation to look after the welfare of its citizens, there is no reason why this should stop at healthcare. We’ll subsidize your education, your protection, your infrastructure–the line drawn at healthcare seems completely arbitrary.

 

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Litigation nation

Liability. It’s fancy legal talk for “Who’s responsible?” Blame is big in our culture when something goes wrong, and we’ve taken to using the legal system as a way of obtaining closure.

Case in point: I recently came across this story about a family in Texas who is suing Apple because a driver who struck their car, killing their daughter, was using FaceTime at the time of the accident. In their lawsuit, the couple alleges that it was incumbent upon Apple to warn everyone that their app could be dangerous when misused, and that they should have designed a safer app.

Folks who read this blog know that I’m not usually a fan of corporations, but I have to side with Apple here. It’s unreasonable, both in legal terms and in common sense, to expect a company to clairvoyantly predict all the ways in which a product can be misused or abused. And speaking of common sense, it should be painfully obvious to everyone that a video chatting app shouldn’t be used while driving.

There is definitely someone at fault here, but it isn’t Apple. It’s the man who was driving the car that hit them. He’s the one at fault because he’s the one who made the decision to use the app while driving. It was his actions that lead to the accident, not Apple’s.

What this appears to be is simply a grab for money. Why else sue Apple instead of, you know, the man who killed your daughter? Probably because the guy who hit your car isn’t worth billions of dollars. But more importantly, suing Apple doesn’t speak to justice–turning tragedy into financial gain is not justice.

But this case brings to light several important questions.

First, should companies be held responsible when their products are used incorrectly or abused? The answer to that, I should think, is a resounding NO. There was a similar debate about this issue during the democratic primary. Hillary Clinton supported a law that held gun manufacturers liable for incidents involving their products. Bernie Sanders did not support such legislation. I have to side with Bernie on this one (shocking, I know, me agreeing with Bernie). The fact that someone used a gun to commit a murder isn’t the manufacturers fault; that individual chose to use a gun for murder instead of self-defense or sport.

Where would this sort of thing end, holding manufacturer’s liable for the actions of individuals who use their products? Suing the brewery for a drunk driving accident? Suing the waitress who served the alcohol? Charging the gun shop owner who sold the weapon used in a crime as an accomplice or an accessory? Holding manufacturers liable is a very, very dangerous precedent.

Second, are companies obligated to warn people about the potential dangers of their products? This is a slippery slope. How much hand-holding do we expect these companies to do? This is why we have labels that say things like, “Do not stick hand in while lawnmower is running” or “caution: this hot drink is hot.” At some point, individuals have to exercise common sense and personal responsibility.

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The fact that we have to tell people this is sad

Third, is litigation the best way to get closure? Suing Apple isn’t going to bring the family’s daughter back. Even if they did win, say, a billion dollars, that still isn’t going to change the fact that their daughter died. But I think more importantly, we as a culture have to realize that getting money isn’t the same thing as grieving. We have a tendency in this country to throw money at problems.

But sometimes that simply doesn’t work. In the case of losing a loved one this is particularly true. Money does not replace loved ones and it isn’t a substitute for grief. Sorry. But I expect that our cultural solution to intense emotional angst would involve money somehow, because everything in this country revolves around money.

Perhaps what disturbs me the most about cases that seek to hold a manufacturer liable is that they absolve individuals of the need or expectation that they use common sense, critical thinking, and have a little personal responsibility for their actions. We’re becoming a nation where everything is always someone else’s fault, we’re never the ones in the wrong. We always try to point the finger at others when we screw up. “How was I supposed to know that my child could choke on tiny toy parts if he wasn’t supervised?! Give me money!” Maybe you could try, I don’t know, parenting your child. I don’t think it’s too much to expect people to know that hot coffee is hot or that you shouldn’t stick your hand in a lawnmower while it’s running. It’s dangerous to me to allow people to use the law to obviate their own lack of foresight, responsibility, or common sense.

Now, all of this doesn’t mean that people who experience what the family in that article went through don’t deserve closure. After all, the accident was not due to a lack of vigilance on their part; someone else’s poor choices directly affected them. But that person wasn’t Apple. It was the man driving the car. Who can and will be prosecuted for his crime–manslaughter. That’s where the legal system is supposed to provide closure to grieving people. In the fact that the person was caught, held responsible for their actions, and won’t be allowed to do it again. That they’ll be punished for their poor choices. That’s justice.

Actions, morality, and defining people

Fidel Castro died last week at the ripe old age of 90, and the world reacted in very different ways. Many people condemned Castro and his regime, while others, like Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, had kinder words for the former world leader. Specifically, Mr. Trudeau said:

Fidel Castro was a larger than life leader who served his people for almost half a century. A legendary revolutionary and orator, Mr. Castro made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation.

This obviously upset a great deal of people who saw Castro as a cruel tyrant. Indeed, it seems like the country of Cuba itself was divided by the death of their former leader. Many people celebrated his death, while it seems many also mourned it. And that brings me to a very interesting area I’d like to discuss today.

Human beings in general have a capacity for good and for bad. When it comes to morality, most of us live somewhere on a spectrum. That is to say, not all of us are 100% good, and conversely not all of us are 100% bad. In fact, I’d be willing to say that in my opinion, there have been very few people in history who have lived exclusively on one side of the spectrum or the other.

World leaders are even more heavily scrutinized because of their positions, and as such tend to be demonized or lionized to a much higher degree. Let’s look at Castro to begin with.

Castro did indeed do some truly horrible things, like killing and jailing his political opponents, interning gay people for “re-education,” forced labor camps, and censoring freedom of speech.

I’m not going to try to argue that Castro was some misunderstood saint.

But even so, he did do some good things for Cuba. Healthcare is free for the Cuban people, and the Cuban medical system even produced a vaccine for lung cancer. Education at all levels is also free. In fact, Cuba has a higher literacy rate than the United States (99% to 86%). In the US, women hold ~20% of the seats in congress; in Cuba, 48% of the seats in parliament are held by women. The caveat here is that this came at a high price for many people.

This begs an interesting question, though, and it’s the central one I would like to pose with this post:

Was Fidel Castro a bad man who did good things, or a good man who did bad things?

Many people are quick to write off Casto as “an evil and immoral communist,” but it seems to me like such black and white thinking completely whitewashes a lot of history here. Indeed, world leaders often get remembered in polarizing ways, written into the annals of history as being either exclusively evil or exclusively good.

But there seems to be a tinge of hypocrisy to this. People in the US tend to generally think of communists as evil people, and Castro certainly fits that mold. Again, I’m not trying to argue that Castro didn’t do horrible things to many people.

But I’d be willing to bet that the same people in America who hold Castro in such disdain probably hold Thomas Jefferson in great esteem, being a founding father and former president…despite the fact that the man owned slaves. Thomas Jefferson participated in and promoted a system wherein human beings could actually become property based on their skin color.

The US has a pretty checkered history when it comes to human rights, beyond even slavery, which seems to be the most egregious.

We’re the only country that’s ever dropped a nuclear bomb on another country. That decision killed upward of 250,000 civilians.

Then there was the time we spent 40 YEARS studying the effects of untreated syphilis in black soldiers. We didn’t tell them they were infected and we withheld treatment just to see what would happen. Because again, America has a little problem with racism.

Oh, and that reminds me of that time we tried to infect Native Americans with smallpox. Our treatment of Native Americans has been appalling from the start. We invaded their land, butchered them, and then forced them onto reservations. Oh, and speaking of, forcing people onto reservations…

The Japanese internment during WWII. That was also a pretty horrible thing to do to American citizens.

I think one could argue that the United States has committed its fair share of war crimes and violations of human rights. But the same people who refuse to acknowledge that Castro may have actually done some measure of good for his people also tend to conveniently forget all of the awful things that “the greatest nation on earth” has done.

Which brings me back around to trying to separate people from their actions. Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, but he also helped write our constitution, which now affords many freedoms to people. So was he a good guy who happened to own slaves, or was a he bad guy who helped frame the constitution?

Was Castro a man who did bad things to ensure what he thought was a greater good? That is, after all, the logic that  Truman used when he dropped the atomic bombs: sure, it would hurt innocent people, but it would also save innocent people as well.

Right now, we still hold people without due process in Gitmo, and we tortured suspected terrorists after 9/11. We did so under the pretense that it would keep millions of people safe, but a lot of people at home and abroad think that Bush and Cheney are war criminals.

I don’t really know if anyone is truly good, or if doing bad things to protect a greater good is acceptable. It’s the same old question we’ve been wrestling with for ages: do the ends justify the means? Whatever the answer to that question is, I think it means the legacies of all heroes and villains deserve closer scrutiny.

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A tale of two Americas

Like many people, I’m still reeling from the fact that Tuesday night, Donald Trump was elected our 45th president. I’m saddened, dismayed, fearful, distraught even. But one thing I can’t say that I am is shocked. And that’s because there really are two Americas.

Politicians use that line on the campaign trail frequently. So do pundits. There’s Main St. vs Wall St. There’s red vs blue. There’s rural vs urban. Whites vs minorities. In the post-Trump victory, people were scrambling to figure out which group of voters was responsible. But the division between the two Americas isn’t a demographic one, it isn’t a geographic one. What this election unequivocally demonstrated for me is that the difference between the two Americas is this:

Intellectualism vs anti-intellectualism.

A vote for Donald Trump is a vote against reason, pure and simple. It’s not just a vote to smash the establishment, it’s a vote against everything that science and progress has led us to. And it really highlights the division between Americans:

America A

In this America, people value science and evidence. They allow it to guide policy. They believe in a secular society. They believe that they’re responsible for their fellow man. They believe that things like healthcare and education are rights and an investment. They believe in diversity, that we’re stronger when we’re more inclusive and tolerant. They seek enlightenment and progress. They believe that the height of being human is to learn and explore, and that those are the endeavors that lift everyone up.

America B

In this America, people value the Christian bible over all else. They think that every law and the constitution itself should be interpreted through a biblical lens. They think that expecting one to help everyone succeed is tyranny. They think the individual is stronger than the community, and that a hand up and a hand out are harmful to their fellow man. They think that a cluster of cells is the same thing as a person. They don’t value science and evidence, and don’t see a point in exploration and inclusiveness. They think that business and commerce is the highest thing human beings can aspire to. They think that the planet is something to use rather than safeguard.

Those two Americas can’t coexist. They’re diametrically and thematically opposed to each other. Asking us to unite and act like one country is a waste of time because we really aren’t one country, we aren’t one people. We’re two distinct groups who are trying to share one space and one government. I don’t feel kinship with half this country, or at least with 60 million people in it. And I don’t apologize for that. I shouldn’t have to try and force some sort of positive feeling about someone who’s every action and belief is harmful to my way of life. I shouldn’t be asked to unite with a racist or a bigot. At this point, I feel more kinship with people living in places like Iceland and Denmark than I do with half the people in my own country, because those places reflect the values and ideals that I hold. Asking me to come together with people in rural Pennsylvania is like asking me to feel a special bond with North Korea at this point.

A poignant and symbolic example of this from the past is the Carter/Reagan transition in 1980. During his time in office, Jimmy Carter put solar panels on the roof of the White House. It was during an energy crisis, and it showed that he represented a group of people that were willing to try to innovate and use science to solve their problems, to move forward and seek out alternatives.

When Reagan took office, the first thing he did was rip the solar panels off. It’s an incredibly symbolic act to me. It showed that he represented a group of people who wanted to take two steps back instead of going forward. People who wanted to double down on a solution that didn’t work. People who were either unwilling or unable to exhibit any critical thinking or creativity, and who couldn’t or wouldn’t seek out alternative solutions to problems.

And let me be clear, this is not a liberal vs conservative thing. There are atheist conservatives. There are conservatives who believe in climate change. And there are liberals who are anti-science (vaccines, GMOs). This is simply science vs anti-science. Reason vs anti-reason.

And it becomes clearer and clearer to me as time goes on that this isn’t a sustainable situation. I don’t want to live in America B, and those people don’t want to live in America A. I don’t think anything will ever get better until we finally cut those string and separate. In the aftermath of Trump’s win, many people are talking about petitions for referendums on seceding from the US. I’d gladly sign that and I’d gladly vote yes. I’m sick and tired of having some Hillbilly in Oklahoma decide which policies and people affect my life, just as I’m sure that Hillbilly is tired people from places like California doing the same.

It’s abundantly clear that we don’t want to live together, so it’s time for a divorce.

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The Pollyanna party

 

I was surfing the internet the other day and came across this article about a group of conservative students in Texas who had a bake sale designed to highlight how bad affirmative action is. Indeed, I hear things all the time about affirmative action is really just reverse racism. People should be hired or admitted to place based on merit, not the color of their skin or their gender. Indeed, here’s how the students described their bake sale:

“YCT is a truly colorblind organization,” the Facebook event reads, “and believes that all government institutions are constitutionally prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race in all circumstances, including affirmative action.”

Well, that’s certainly nice in principle. I do happen to agree that people should be judged based on their individual accomplishments and merit, not on the color of their skin. However, unlike these students and other conservatives who make similar arguments, I also live in the real world.

Racism still exists, kids. Sorry to burst your bubble.

I’d like to live in a world where there wasn’t discrimination, but the fact of the matter is that we still live in a country where people will throw away our your application or resume just because of your last name, your address, or the color of you skin. So is affirmative action a perfect system? No. But is it better than the alternative? In my opinion, yes.

And this instance is a prime example of why I just can’t ever get behind conservatism, particularly the libertarian flavor: I live in the real world where people aren’t perfect. Conservatives seem to believe that we can trust businesses to always do what’s best and that individuals will always take care of each other. While that’s certainly a warm blanket of happy feelings, that isn’t the world we live in. As much as I’d like it to be true, you can’t trust businesses and individuals to act altruistically all the time. Will the majority of people always act in a manner that benefits others? Maybe. It probably depends on what we’re talking about specifically. In the case of racism, it’s pretty evident that there are still a good number of people out there who hold minorities and other races in disregard.

So no, I don’t trust people to be colorblind. I don’t trust businesses to place environment or people over profit, or any other warm fuzzy thing conservatives think about people and free markets. Because history has shown that this isn’t the case time and time again. And it’ll probably continue to be that way for a very long time. So yes, we need regulation. Yes, we need oversight. And sadly, yes, we need laws that prohibit people, businesses, and institutions from acting on any inherent racism they might have.

In a way, conservatives kind of remind me of Pollyanna, always seeing the world and people through rose colored glasses. Which really made me think of a famous scene from the 80s/90s prime time soap opera, Knots Landing:

I agree with you, Michele Lee. Nice should be the norm. Unfortunately, though, it isn’t.

 

Stressed out? You’re not alone.

In a previous post about healthcare in the United States, I talked a little bit about stress and its role in health. With this post, I’d like to delve a little bit more into its prevalence in American society. In order to do this, I’ll be summarizing and analyzing the latest stress report from the APA–the American Psychological Association–entitled, “Stress in America: Paying with our health.” You can find the full report here. It’s a fascinating read, and I highly encourage everyone to read it. I’ll then provide my own insight into the matter. First, a little background.

The APA has been conducting this study since 2007. That’s not a terribly long time for any long term trends to emerge, but I think the data is still valid and relevant for a short term snapshot of the American psyche. This last survey was conducted in February of 2015. 3,068 adults were included in the survey, which was conducted by Harris Poll. There were 1,204 men and 1,864 women across all generations and all regions of the US. Now, to the results.

The top causes of stress

The top four things that cause us stress are:

  1.  Money (64% of respondents)
  2. Work  (60%)
  3. Family responsibilities (47%)
  4. Health concerns (46%)

Money, not surprisingly, is the top concern of most people and the biggest cause of stress. 54% of those surveyed reported having “just enough or not enough money to make ends meet at the end of the month.” Specifically, Americans worry about paying for unexpected expenses, essentials, and saving for retirement. Unexpected expenses are a big one, considering the plight of the average American.

62% of Americans have less than $1,000 in their savings accounts, and 21% don’t even have a savings account at all. That means that, in the big picture, a whopping 83% of Americans don’t have enough money to pay for something big that happens out of the blue: an injury, a car repair, etc. It’s no wonder that the average American has $4,717 in credit card debt, and US credit card debt currently totals close to one TRILLION dollars.

The financial picture is just as bleak when it comes to retirement. I’ll let the pictures do the talking for me:

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Clearly, the average American is not prepared to retire. This means that they have to work longer, which is a source of stress. However, the impact of not being able to retire goes beyond simple stress. Aging workers are more likely to suffer injuries on the job. They’re also more likely to have chronic health problems, which means they use their insurance more than younger workers. Ultimately this means that employers wind up paying more for an aging workforce.

But how does money specifically impact individual health? Well, according to the survey, nearly 20% of American report skipping or thinking about delaying visits to the doctor. 32% of Americans say that they don’t have enough money to live a healthy lifestyle. It also affects relationships. 41% of respondents with a spouse or partner reported that stress had caused problems in their relationship.

But perhaps the biggest effect on our health is how we manage stress. Spoiler alert, it’s very poorly. In order to deal with stress, the Average American will 1) Watch television, 2) Surf the internet, 3) Sleep/nap, 4) eat, 5) Drink, 6) Smoke. The order of those things changes depending on which generation you’re surveying, but you’ll notice two general things about all of those activities: they’re either sedentary or they’re actively bad for you. And about 20% of Americans say they don’t engage in any sort of activity at all to manage stress.

Now, let’s talk about some of the good things to come out of the survey.

First, self-reported stress is down. Yay! On a scale of 0-10, Americans in 2015 had an average stress level of 4.9 , which is down from 6.2 in 2007. However, that’s still far short of the level of stress that Americans think is a healthy level–3.7. Also, the number of Americans who say that stress has a “very strong or strong” impact on their physical and mental health appears to be decreasing as well.

Okay, now for some thoughtful analysis. First off, I think it’s very tempting for some people and pundits to look at this data and say, “Well if those lower income people would stop spending their money on fancy phones and tattoos and all that garbage they’d have more money left over!” It’s a new variation on the old “Welfare Queen” trope and quite frankly it’s pitifully stupid. The data clearly show that this isn’t the case. 53% of Americans reported using coupons or shopping during sales this year, 52% are cooking more at home, and 51% are cutting back on non-essentials. In short, people are tightening their belts, contrary to the conservative narrative. Now, does that mean that there aren’t people out their who spend and manage their money poorly? Of course those people exist. But they’re the exception, not the standard. And they even include wealthy people–actors and professional athletes can go broke making stupid purchases, too.

Second, there have been lots of reports about how, “The middle class is shrinking because more of them moved into a higher class!” Well, that’s certainly a nice talking point, as you can see in this article. And there’s even recent data that shows that median household income has nudged upward. However, let’s keep several things in mind.

“Middle class” is a relative term. It’s simply a multiplier of the poverty level. Also, it’s not a reflection of purchasing power. It’s not a statement on inflation. I can make more money, but if the price of goods increases at a rate greater than my income, the extra income means nothing. Similarly, if my debt increases, the extra income also means less. My newfound income may also push me into a higher tax bracket. In short, it’s entirely possible to make more money but be worse off than you were before. Being “middle class” or “upper middle class” is a purely linguistic term, and it’s very subjective. And if this report is any indication, any new income gained by the average American has not done much to impact the level of stress they feel regarding money. Which leads me to my last point, which is more philosophical in nature.

People who regularly read this blog know that I’m not a big fan of money. I hate it. I hate the way it’s used, I hate the way it’s idolized. At the same time, I recognize that in our society money is obviously necessary. I have to eat, put a roof over my head, etc. But the problem with money isn’t a conceptual one. I have no qualms with the idea of creating a system wherein we have a currency that represents labor. The problem is a cultural one, how we promote and utilize such a system.

In American culture, money has become synonymous with success. The more money you have, the more successful you are. The more material objects you own, the more successful you are. Indeed, it’s ingrained into the American psyche that spending money is tantamount to patriotism. Remember W imploring everyone to go out to mall or the terrorists will win? In the grand scheme of things, our society promotes money over all else.

It promotes money over science: the fossil fuel industry spends millions of dollars every year trying to discredit climate science and buy legislation.

It promotes money over public policy: The NRA and gun control. Lobbying by the food industry (hello soda and corn products!)

It promotes money over family: We spend much more time working than we do with our family and in our relationships.

It promotes money over the environment: Who cares about pollution if it provides us with cheap goods?

And it promotes money over health as the survey here shows.

But even if money is necessary, is it really important? And more crucially, is it really the metric we should all be using for success? Who lived the richer life: the man who died wealthy but never knew his kids or the person who lived a modest life and spent more time with their family? I realize that’s a subjective call, but my point is that culturally, we as a society only view one of them as being successful.

As a final thought about money, stress, and society, I would encourage everyone to read this article. It’s about a book written by a palliative care nurse who recorded the regrets of the dying patients that she took care of. Here’s the list of what people reported regretting on their deathbeds the most according to this nurse’s experiences:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

“This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it.”

 

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

“This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.”

 

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

“Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.”

 

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

“Often they would not truly realize the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.”

 

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

”This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.”

I would argue that what society tells us we should value really isn’t what we inherently want to value. And that disconnect more than anything is probably the biggest cause of stress in our lives.

Check, please!

An article I read the other day got me thinking about the practice of tipping servers, bartenders, etc. I was perusing the internets, as I am wont to do, and I came across an article about DeAngelo Williams, who plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Apparently he left a lousy tip at a restaurant–to the tune of $0.75 on a $128.25 bill. Now, in his defense, the service was apparently horrible.

He waited an hour and half for his food, then got the wrong order, and generally put up with lousy service. Thus the lousy tip. That seems fair. Naturally, the server didn’t think so. So she put him on blast on Twitter. She was promptly fired by the restaurant. Which is probably a good move on their part. Shaming customers after you gave them bad service, especially famous customers who have the eyes and ears of many followers, is just bad business.

But it made me think about tipping in general. I realize it’s probably not going to make me popular, but I hate the idea of tipping. And I hate how pervasive the practice has come. It seems like everyone is obligated to tip people in the food service industry, no matter what they do. They even have a spot for a tip on the receipt at the local ice cream parlor. For someone who literally spent 30 seconds scooping ice cream and putting it in a bowl.

The problem is that for a lot of people in the food service industry, the tips are what they depend on to survive. And I get that. I empathize with that. But it doesn’t make me the jackass. The jackass in this scenario is the employer, who refuses to pay their employee enough money to, you know, actually live. In many states it’s perfectly legal for employers to pay people below the federal minimum wage, because the tips will make up for it. And so you have someone who makes $4/hour who will pretty much be screwed if I don’t leave a tip.

The situation is certainly shitty for the employee, but I’d argue that it’s also shitty for the customer. The employer is essentially making ME subsidize a cut in their employees’ wages. That’s the egregious part, that some asshole thought, “Hey, if people are tipping my employees, I can pay them less.” At the risk of sounding like a commie pinko, people should be paid for the job that they’re doing according to the law and human decency. It’s abhorrent that people are allowed to pay some employees wages that essentially impoverish them while passing the buck to the consumer.

It’s the perfect system. If I protest it and don’t tip, I’m the bad guy because I’m taking away someone’s livelihood. If I tip, then I’m just letting the assholes win. Of course the argument from the assholes is that if they pay their workers more that the prices at the restaurants and bars will increase. You know, that old chestnut.

First of all, bullshit. We all know you’re overcharging us for food and drink in the first place. Don’t act like $12 for a Mai Tai is a steal.  Second of all, if I end up paying $20 for a $15 meal because of the tip, then I’m already paying more, you ass. Forcing me to tip is already making me pay an artificially inflated price. But this “Oh, I’ll have to drastically raise your prices to be fair to my employees” threat is completely hollow. There’s this place that tripled their profits after getting rid of tips and paying their employees more. In my neck of the woods, several places are eliminating tips. They are, of course, raising their prices…by 18%. Which sounds like a lot, until you realize that in some places “expected gratuity” can run to the tune of 20-30%.

 

I’ve never really understood why this business model only exists in the food business and not other industries, but that’s the way it is. And that’s the social convention. To the point that even thinking about not tipping someone makes you a douche. But instead of being mad the customer, the employees should really be mad at the real douche–the one who won’t pay them fairly to begin with. It’s not that I don’t think you deserved the tip–it’s that I think you deserve a decent wage to begin with.

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