Month: September 2015

Nope.

Writing an ongoing lecture series while also taking it upon myself to rewrite three movies.

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Part… just kidding, another interlude. How about video game morality?

I don’t feel like continuing the How To Fix America thing tonight. Likely, this is because I’ve made the mistake of setting out to go through some of the Steam games that have been collecting dust in my inventory since… whenever Steam came out. Annual Steam Summer Sales are mostly to blame (yeah, starting out this post on consequence and morality by projecting responsibility on Steam).

This week I played two highly celebrated games (warning: the linked wiki pages have spoilers). The first was Spec Ops: The Line, and I also started Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. I never played SO:tL before, and hadn’t played KotOR2:tSL since like, ten years ago. Ordinarily outdated videogame habits would not be worth mentioning, but playing these two games in particular, back to back, yielded a peculiar contrast.

SO:tL is mechanically a fairly linear and repetitive third person military-style shooter game. However, over the course of the story it slowly deteriorates into a maddening descent into hell (the Inferno kind, not the Campbell kind) that deconstructs the entire shooter genre.

KotOR2:tSL is a western-style action role playing game set in the Star Wars universe. With compelling, but frequently buggy, gameplay, it tells a largely disjointed story with a fairly conventional plot, occasionally connected by small moments of deconstruction that critically examine the morality of the Star Wars universe. However, polarized morality usually wins out in the end, ultimately undermining any of the nuanced analysis the game attempts to conduct.

Both of these games are set during a war, and both touch upon consequence, responsibility, and morality. Both also produce weird acronyms accounting for their respective subtitles, so for convenience they will from now on be SOL and KOR2.

The first thing to be said is that, writing, sound,and environment design aside, SOL is a really dull slog to get through. The game is simply not fun to play. The only thing that kept me playing it was the uniquely disturbing atmosphere and engrossing story. So I’ll get to that.

In SOL you are a three-man commando squad investigating Dubai after a killer sandstorm wrecked the city and triggered a civil war.

Just go with it.

What awaits you is a surreal, apocalyptic landscape littered with death and violent neon graffiti, all while a psycho on an omniscient radio system spews taunts and profane, hawkish propaganda. He, and most of the other characters, are complex products of the violence that surrounds them, and with some investigation you can discover that the various “villains'” respective descents into evil follow a sympathetic route.

Eventually you are given choices to make. The biggest one is not actually a choice, as the game does not give you alternatives, but it certainly punishes you for the consequences of your “choice.” What follow then are a series of superficially false choices which are actually true choices, but the implied false choice lampshades actions which, in a “game universe” would be considered acceptable, but in a moral universe would be unconscionable.

An example might help.

At one point in the game you’re dropped in the middle of a refugee camp full of desperate people who hate the US troops occupying the city and take their hatred out upon your squad. They push you and throw rocks, which of course cause minor damage that threatens to kill you/end your game, and you have lethal military hardware in your hands with which to respond. Your squad becomes afraid and yells for you to mow a hole into the crowd as they box you in, cornering you and surrounding you. In most games this sort of desperate scene would permit using that military weaponry on these unarmed or under-equipped civilians. SOL is happy to allow you to do that, and after slaughtering the civilians you can progress to the next area. However, you can also take an alternative that no characters tell you is an option, which is to use less-than-lethal melee moves on civilians to force your way out of the encirclement. In neither case do you really get any sort of in-game “reward” for your choice, you simply continue on. If you do kill them however, the incident is later used against you as evidence of your guilt and complicity in the suffering of the civil war.

SOL is interesting in that it punishes you for doing ruthless and violent things, but generally doesn’t allow minimally merciful choices to result in any heart-warming closure. The world of SOL is a dark shade of moral gray, with the implicit conclusion that the mere act of warmaking, no matter the intentions, results in seemingly necessary acts that any outside observer would deem morally evil.

SOL forces you to become an engine of destruction merely to survive your experience, fighting hordes of soldiers across an unforgiving landscape. As you progress, completing daring feats that would be “heroic” in many other games, your mastery of your environment and weaponry seem merely to be an avenue to becoming that which you hate most. Your squad begins to turn on each other, and on you, as the depravity of the game’s world and the consequences of your actions affects them. The game turns a mirror on everything you do (even literally at one point) and reveals the monster that you “must” become to “win” the game. The way this transformation proceeds results in a depressing but utterly worthwhile experience.

KOR2, by contrast, lives in the Star Wars universe, a universe where there is literally a “Dark Side” that people can “fall” to. Unlike SOL, It’s fun, with compelling (okay, addicting) gameplay, sprinkled throughout with lots of mini games, side quests, and humor. However it makes the mistake of trying to juxtapose the inherently polar morality of its universe with the gray areas of more mundane existence, especially in terms of survival and unintended consequence.

In KOR2 there really are no complicated characters, despite superficial cues to the contrary. Deep down, every character’s agenda is either “good” (selfless, e.g. pacifist Ithorian terraformers trying to reintroduce life to a world blighted by war), “neutral” (survivalist, e.g. victims of war trying to keep their families alive), and “evil” (selfish, e.g. the Sith Lord who basically just wants to turn the galaxy into one big Force Dinner for himself). If a character is trying to redeem themselves they can go from “evil” in the past to “good” in the present, but anyone “evil” in the present is usually a lost cause, or a “good” or “neutral” person deep down that simply needs to be guided back to the light.

The morality of the player character is malleable, but this leads to strange contradictions. Sometimes being sarcastic has no bearing on your moral position (kept track of by a morality bar on your character screen which measures how “Light” or “Dark” you are), but sometimes an offhand, snarky remark gives you “Dark Side Points.” Sometimes companion characters will call you out on your questionable moral decisions and scrutinize them, but outside of a contrived “influence” system, they will remain steadfastly loyal to you anyway.

Occasionally, the game will throw a moral dilemma at you. A character asks (while a cutscene demonstrates their point), if giving refugees five bucks leads to other refugees mugging them and leaving them not only broke, but beaten up, is it worth making the donation?

The game seems to think itself clever for suggesting that seemingly good acts can provoke evil, but falls prey to the sin of many similar games by giving you XP, items, and money for solving problems, and then making ruthless violence a viable or necessary solution to just about every problem in the game. A settlement is under attack by mercenaries? Murder every mercenary, then be called a hero. The territory of an otherwise neutral gang is chafing against those aforementioned refugees? Wipe the entire gang out down to the last man, with no negative consequences, then loot their storeroom for useful stuff.

The game mechanics make the act of mass slaughter empowering and rewarding. So I find that in a weird way, the dull, unrewarding gameplay of SOL better facilitates the overall theme of the game, which is that there is absolutely nothing to gain from progressing via violence, except an eventual conclusion.

Meanwhile, being an RPG, KOR2’s violence rewards you not only with objectives, but with points and equipment that make your character more powerful. As your character becomes more powerful, they become more disposed to asserting their will on the galaxy, whether for “good” or “evil.” The game gets easier while the rewards increase in scale. By now my level 20 Jedi can run around at super speed massacring most enemies without breaking a sweat, after hitting a token dialogue option where they say “you could have surrendered; you made me do this.” Then they use the reward money from the slaughter to buy the freedom of that poor slave who has five lines and ceases to exist after they regain their supposed agency.

Ultimately, I think SOL is simply more ambitious than KOR2, and maybe a bit more savvy. Granted, it’s also a more recent game, but it creates a very consistent and self-validating moral universe which provides some insight to the culture of violent games, and our own world. KOR2, while being much more enjoyable, squanders its moments of thoughtfulness on moral inconsistency and self-defeating design decisions.

However, it bears pointing out that if I hadn’t played SOL first, I likely wouldn’t be thinking so hard about KOR2’s morality and what it fails to achieve. To that effect, SOL’s success as a game has manifested fully.

I haven’t finished playing KOR2 yet, but I suspect that what lies ahead won’t be nearly as fulfilling an experience.

Interlude: Another 9/11 Anniversary

Almost everything that can be said about 9/11 has been said. From the Bush Administration’s politically motivated negligence before the attacks, to the mind-numbing 24/7 news footage of planes flying into buildings (one of my few vivid memories from that time), to the sudden unity of American polarity and then the just as sudden unraveling of that unity and the ensuing overtures to war in the Middle East, it was an overwhelming horror show.

I’ve already addressed how 9/11 was merely component to Al Queda’s plan for the Middle East, and how Osama Bin Laden and pals were not cartoonish villains but strategists with a canny knack for anticipating an enemy’s response and exploiting opportunities for radicalizing allies to join their overall cause.

Just recently, for the first time, I watched an old recording from Berkeley of a discussion between Errol Morris and Robert McNamara. I devoted a good chunk of a previous post to McNamara’s “11 Lessons from Vietnam,” but in Morris’s film, The Fog of War, the filmmaker extrapolated 11 more general lessons. The first one is “empathize with your enemy.”

In the Berkeley discussion, Morris recounts an interview in 2003 with FOX “news” where his interviewer insisted that The Fog of War’s lessons didn’t apply to the War on Terror. Specifically, they insisted that terrorists cannot be empathized with.

Empathy, according to Psychology Today because why not:

Empathy is the experience of understanding another person’s condition from their perspective. You place yourself in their shoes and feel what they are feeling.

It can be unpleasant to place yourself in the shoes of a person who has done horrible things. There seems to be a kind of irrational reluctance, as though without ever admitting it, we at any point are secretly on the precipice of moral conversion and merely tempting that by thinking like an amoral person will put us over the edge. People therefore find the idea repellent, and despite the continued proliferation of Christianity, in this case thoroughly reject the following quote:

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you

To their minds, this is irreconcilable with the actions of terrorists. I, a non-Christian, disagree. No matter the label, a human being is a human being, and no matter the crimes is entitled to the same rights and justice as anyone else.

However, “empathize with your enemy,” is a rule which has far more in common with the lessons of a figure other than Jesus. That figure is decidedly less of a pacifist. The quote is commonly truncated to:

Know your enemy.

Knowledge of the enemy is a perfect summary of a strategic discrepancy between the United States and our opponents in the Middle East. This brings us back to 9/11.

The 9/11 attacks played upon our weaknesses while capitalizing on the attacker’s strengths. The fact that they constructed a plan, carried it out (imperfectly), and achieved a very specific but immensely significant outcome says a great deal not only about the cunning involved, but the depth of knowledge about America, and what buttons they needed to push in order to get their desired response.

I’m going to attempt to do what many, if not most Americans, were and are reluctant to do. I’m going to analyze the strategy of the 9/11 attacks from the point of view of those who executed it. This is going to be a long and painful exercise. It is my hope that doing so will demonstrate not only the canny abilities of our adversaries, but the profound weaknesses they exploited, weaknesses which I believe continue today and threaten the repeat of 9/11 in new ways.


I am now the planner(s) of the 9/11 attacks. My objective is to provoke the United States into overextending its military assets and entrenching them in an economically crippling guerrilla war in a hostile region. Ostensibly the reasons for this are historical and ideological, but for the purposes of the plan those things don’t matter. With this incredibly ambitious objective in mind, what are the approaches we can take?

Diplomatic:

At this time we haven’t the international influence necessary to compel the United States to engage the Middle East on this scale. Most regimes in the Middle East which might be willing to attack the United states are hostile to us (like Iraq), and their inability to carry out such attacks despite motivation indicates their insufficiency for this plan. This avenue has limited chances of success.

Economic:

Most economic assets are in heroin production, which are not sufficient leverage to coerce the United States, its allies, or its potential enemies into committing to such a risky endeavor. Additionally, our dependence on armament and other war implements puts us at a disadvantage vis-à-vis the neighbors we rely upon in terms of materiel leverage. This avenue has limited chances of success.

Military:

It does not take great international influence or advanced military hardware to attack a vulnerable target in a devastating way. Additionally, experience in Afghanistan and in previous engagements with the US demonstrates that this is not only possible, but likely to have at least a moderate chance of success of execution versus the costs and risks.

There may be other approaches, but on the ambitious scale of what our strategy hopes to achieve, they are not “global” enough, and thus too inconsequential to meet our goal. A military approach, having the highest likelihood of success, will be selected as the primary avenue of our strategy.

In order to demonstrate the scale of our objective, the attack must be internationally shocking. A partial or complete destruction of the intended target and/or significant loss of life in at least the triple digits, is likely required.

With our primary means chosen, how should a military approach be executed? A target, or targets, must first be chosen. The target must ideally have the greatest possible impact with the minimum possible material and logistic commitment.

An ally of the United States

US Allies in Africa and South America

Both regions see violence every year and are lucky if the United States so much as makes a statement about it. This has a low likelihood of achieving our aims.

US Allies in the Middle East

The easiest plan to act upon.This has the potential advantage of allowing for not only provoking the United States, but of causing direct damage to enemies of opportunity we seek to eventually depose. However, activities in the Middle East are most vulnerable to being preemptively perceived and countered due to existing regional opposition. Also, not even Soviet involvement in Afghanistan and a hostage crisis in Iran have provoked an expensive military response from the United States. Only the Gulf War successfully engaged the United States in an extensive military action, but the United States’ commitment was highly conditional and its military aims were achieved, which is not a pattern we wish to perpetuate. However, given the ease of attacking targets in this area, it remains a remote option.

US Allies in Asia

Only Japan and South Korea offer themselves as strong potential targets, and their constant sensitivity about incursions from China and North Korea respectively make them inopportune and difficult. Rather than presuming an origin in the Middle East, first, distracting assumptions may lead to more regionally local responses. This has a troubled likelihood of achieving our aims.

US Allies in Europe

There are many good targets of opportunity in Europe, where the US has a long history of committing to military action at various scales. Additionally, with Russia’s fall from power, Europe is less vigilant against possible attacks. However, since WWII its commitment has been more conditional to either the UN or NATO, and since also WWII there has so far been no precedent for an attack on one nation provoking retaliatory response against a completely different global region. An attack would need to be large in scale. However, this remains a strong option.

US Allies in North and Central America

The same case for Europe can be made for Canada, and the US’s mixed history with Mexico and Central America means they are unreliable as targets for a provocative attack. Canada remains a strong option.

The US Itself

This is of course a challenge, but it’s not particularly more challenging than Europe or Canada, and debatably less challenging than attacking US allies in Asia. The US is as vulnerable to attack as most of Europe, believing in no viable immediate threats on a national scale. Direct attacks against the United States have the potential to drag it into war (see: Pearl Harbor), but small terror attacks have been considered isolated or insignificant cases. Still, it remains a strong, and possibly the most direct and provocative, option. As with Europe and Canada, the attack would need to be particularly large in scale to evoke a response.

Rather than looking more thoroughly at the pros and cons of every option, we’re going to focus on the best options.

Europe

Pros:

  • Easy overland travel through national borders.
  • History of violence provoking US intervention
  • Strategic targets of high value

Cons:

  • No large-scale unilateral US dedication to involvement since WWII
  • Mitigated effect of indirect attack
  • Remote distance from United States and Middle East minimizes impact

Canada

Pros:

  • Close proximity to United States
  • Especially relaxed security environment (no domestic defense enforced for almost two centuries)
  • Canadian response likely to summon US response

Cons:

  • No history of committed interventionism
  • Distance and ocean make logistical enforcement more difficult
  • Lack of coherence with ideological stance against more visible countries like the US or UK

United States

Pros:

  • Direct approach with strongest likelihood of provoking response, assuming adequate scale
  • Fairly relaxed security environment (no domestic defense enforced since WWII or threatened since mid-Cold War)
  • History of being provoked by domestic attacks

Cons:

  • Robust intelligence network increasing likelihood of interception/prevention
  • Same logistical constraints as with Canada
  • Highest requirement for energy in generating the greatest possible military effect

All of the pros and cons can be weighted against one another, and the choice ultimately comes down to intuition. There is no doubt, however, that the most daring proposal with the greatest potential for results despite a moderate risk, is attacking the United States, and this is the target we ultimately choose.

Specific Static or Mobile Targets

To enhance the pervasive nature of the attack and the scale upon which it is perceived, it must strike either a crippling or a symbolic blow against the national target. A crippling blow is impossible with the military means we have, due to the decentralized nature of the US military (which we wish to preserve for the sake of engaging the Middle East) and its government (with an extensive chain of command and order of succession).

A symbolic attack will do little real physical damage to the decentralized hierarchy of the United States, but accomplish an effective provocation nonetheless. The greatest symbols of American power are its military, its economy, and its various government icons. An ideal symbol will exhibit a maximum of both vulnerability and symbolic significance.

Hitting a military base would be a powerful symbolic move. However, the inherent defensible nature of such a base makes it less vulnerable than other targets. Looking at the most significant civilian target with military importance, the obvious choice is The Pentagon.

A symbol of economic power was already chosen in 1993. The World Trade center is an architectural and commercial testament to US trading power.

Obvious symbols of government are the White House, and the buildings of the House and Senate.

For ease of coordination, all methods of attack should be as simple as possible while also being similar, if not the same.

Method of Attack

A conventional or dirty bomb of some kind is the only means by which to generate the necessary effect. However, a single attack from a car loaded with bombs was attempted before and largely failed. If the previous attack is to be improved upon, it must be increased in both scale and destructive power.

Land

The diverse security obstacles make a land-born weapon, dirty or otherwise, impractical.

Sea

We do not have the capability to launch a successful attack by sea.

Air

Obviously warplanes are not at our disposal. However, a plane hijacking is possible. Smuggling small weapons onto a plane is not difficult, but smuggling bombs likely will be. However, when loaded with fuel, a plane equipped for long flights can effectively turn into a bomb itself, as well as a delivery vehicle for the bomb.

Hijacking a plane and using it as a missile is an efficient way to produce a destructive effect that can be equally applied to all targets of opportunity.

Miscellaneous

The finer details of the attacks, the training, logistics, and execution are less relevant to our strategic goal.

Conclusion

The attacks on 9/11 took place. However, the planning could not have ended there. We must examine where we succeeded, where we failed, and where luck aided our strategy where it might not have.

Successes

  • We succeeded in destroying much of the World Trade Center
  • We succeeded in striking the Pentagon
  • We succeeded in creating an environment of fear and panic in the wake of the attacks
  • We succeeded in sowing economic discord and weakness
  • We succeeded in provoking the United States into unilateral military commitment to the Middle East

Failures

  • We underestimated the power of resistance by American Passengers on airline flights
  • We failed to exploit the vulnerability of the TSA’s regulations to smuggle weapons aboard which would have minimized the threat of resistance
  • We underestimated or failed to anticipate the unifying effect of the 9/11 attacks
  • We generated confusion by not immediately taking credit for the attacks in a visible way
  • We confused our message and failed to effectively communicate the reason for the attacks
  • We failed to cause significant real damage to the Pentagon’s staff due to poor timing
  • We failed to hit an executive or legislative government building, or any of its occupants

Successes of luck

  • US fighter craft were on routine exercises which minimized their response time
  • US intelligence services failed to anticipate our plan despite having acquired evidence for it
  • The Bush administration ignored the evidence that intelligence services did collect about the plan
  • The TSA’s security measures did not compromise any of the hijackers, despite having the ability to do so
  • Potential for the hijackers to be compromised upon entry to the United States or in the course of their activities was not capitalized upon
  • The unifying effect of the 9/11 attacks was not constructively used
  • The misinformation disseminated about us and the attacks engendered ignorance which helped perpetuate US attitudes

I’ll end this thought exercise there. I, of course, benefit from hindsight and information gleaned from other’s thorough investigations and journalism. However, this is the sort of exercise that a concerned administration then, and today, must undertake when they address any potential threat to the United States. If a member of the FBI or the NSA had written this report before 9/11, and it had been taken seriously by the Bush Administration, 9/11 would not have happened.

Before I end this, look again at the lists of the planners’ successes, failures, and instances of blind luck. Al Queda’s successes are our vulnerabilities. Its failures are our successes and victories. Al Queda’s luck is our weakness and incompetence.

How much safer are our domestic institutions from terrorism?

How much less inclined are we to seize panic and fall to economic discord?

How much less inclined are we to become bogged down in the Middle East?

Are we less vain and prone to reactionary policies?

Are our intelligence services better disposed to ending terror plots?

Are our government officials less beholden to party politics?

Are our airports more secure?

Are we more united as a country?

Do we have a better understanding of the enemies arrayed against us?

Are we more informed about our role in the world and the consequences of our actions?

It’s been fourteen years. Out of the horror and death of 9/11, what have we learned, and what do we have to show for the introspection that event encouraged?

Step Two: Lift Up

Getting right into it.

America spends proportionally more on healthcare than any other developed country. Bizarrely, the quality of care is also much lower than it is in countries that spend less than we do.

This discrepancy is reportedly a result of “higher health-sector prices.” This shouldn’t be a surprise, since the multifarious insurance companies dominating the US medical market are specifically designed to maximize profit from peoples’ poor/health.

That such a malicious, misanthropic practice is permitted at all is appalling, to me. What happened to the life in “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?”

On top of this are malpractice and tort reform. Tort reform has reform in big quotes because it is a widely used name which has nothing at all to do with reform, and in fact is pretty thoroughly corrupt. The argument behind tort “reform” comes from the medical establishment, and boils down to this:

So like, you know how sometimes our doctors and surgeons inadvertently cause irreparable damage or death to their patients? And the patients or their families like… wanna sue? Well, if they do sue, and they win… we don’t wanna pay that much. Like one, two hundred thou, tops. Anything more would be, um, like, a total burden or whatever. KTHXBYE

Let’s look at a fairly common case of medical malpractice. Erb’s Palsy. Erb’s Palsy is often a result of nerve damage caused to an infant while they are being delivered. It can result in permanent loss of muscle and motor function in one arm for the rest of that person’s life.

Erb’s Palsy is completely preventable. It is only likely to happen when good medical care is not being provided. In other words, it happens if a doctor fucks up.

How much money is required to treat such an injury with surgeries (sometimes multiple attempts at surgical repair still fail) and rehabilitation? Considering it can cost tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars through any given year, multiplied by the rest of the person’s life, we’re looking at potentially millions of dollars spent on medical costs to repair completely avoidable damage.

In one case, a woman was awarded almost thirteen million dollars by a jury when her baby was incompetently delivered, resulting in Erb’s Palsy. However, thanks to local tort “reform” laws, her payout was capped to four million. From that four million comes the lawyer fees (usually a flat one third of the settlement payed out), so we’re probably looking at closer to three million.

Keep in mind that a few days in the ICU can cost almost five hundred thousand dollars.

If doctors maintain attitudes like this to people in need of medical care, imagine insurance companies, third party middle-men who monetize peoples’ suffering. These practices are practically dystopian.

Instead of looking at Switzerland, let’s look at the UK, now. Specifically, let’s look at the UK’s NHS (National Health Service, not the National Honor Society [which I happened to be a member of back in the day]). Again, according to the data, the UK spends roughly 5% less of its GPD on healthcare, yet in terms of performance, it is on top of the list.

The NHS is essentially a tax-funded, government-run healthcare system provided to everyone in the UK. There are still private practices and small clinics, often also subsidized by the NHS, but predominantly NHS halthcare workers and hospitals work directly for the government.

Let’s wax a little philosophical and address the complaint many Americans have: GET THAT DERN GUVURMENT OUTTA AUR PRIVATE B’NISS. I AIN’T PAYIN’ NO TAXES TA SUM DERN BYURACRACY GONNA MESS EVERTHANG UP LIKE THE GUVURMENT ALWAYS DUHS!

There is absolutely an opportunity for the government to engage in invasive practices and abuse wherever it exists as a literal bureaucracy, managing peoples’ lives, especially their health. Our government engages in these practices. A lot. However, I would contend that as bad as the government is, it at least ostensibly works for the common good, even if politicians are willing to play broadly with the definition of that term.

Corporations, on the other hand, exist for one thing: profit.

We have no problem with government-run firehouses or government-run police. Why is there so much mistrust for government-run healthcare? Imagine if, instead of the percentage of a dollar you pay in taxes to the local firehouse, you paid rates comparable to medical insurance for the right to have immediate fire response teams. Considering how much a fucking ambulance costs, you’re looking at much more than you pay in taxes. Additionally, if you don’t experience a fire, your money went straight into someone’s pocket.

However, when necessary fire response is pulled from a limited pool of tax revenue, it’s much more frugal. The system is clearly more ideal.

Why on earth do we tolerate a system like this for fire response, but not for medical care? Why is it an unnecessary tax burden to pay a small amount towards care that someone, somewhere needs, and that you might one day need, but very few people complain about paying the salaries of local cops?

Granted, those cops might be murdering people in the streets, but while that’s certainly an issue, not many people go so far as to say, “You know what? It’s better to not have any local or federal cops at all.”

(Incidentally, societies where cops have been privatized are prominent in dystopian fiction or satire, like the Shadowrun universe or this sketch from Fry and Laurie.)

Ultimately it comes down to, what is the job of government? Why does government exist, and who for?

I would argue that the government exists to ensure the greatest possible measure of safety and quality of life for the maximum number of citizens who honor its laws. This definition is commensurate with the enlightenment philosophy that spawned the American independence movement and informed its constitution and Bill of Rights. It is a definition that has since been validated by other developed countries with high standards of living, and international organizations like the UN.

In opposition to this, companies exist… to make money. They can absolutely scam the hell out of people in order to do this, and if you think they should, I’m not really sure what to say. Rather than any public good, they idealize profit.

Between these two alternatives, which is best suited to ensuring public safety and health? We give the government the power to run police. We give the government the responsibility of ensuring fire safety. We give the government the responsibility of protecting our borders and our skies, of building our roads and bridges, of maintaining courts of law…

So let’s get back to the practical issue, here. The UK has proved that a government-run healthcare system can cost less while performing better. As for tort reform?

In a government-run system, the government is responsible for malpractice. This completely liberates doctors from their own need for insurance (malpractice insurance). The health system is beholden to taxpayers and legislators who like getting elected, rather than insurance companies or private hospitals who might seek to gouge prices for themselves. And because all healthcare is free, if someone does become a victim of malpractice, they aren’t charged for the consequences, and neither are the doctors responsible.

“But wait,” you might say. “What about Obamacare?”

Obamacare is just as inefficient as the preceding system; it just spreads the inefficiency around more. Let’s say someone qualifies for a government subsidy to pay the rates offered by a health insurance company. What funds the government subsidy? Tax revenue. Who pays for tax revenue? We do.

With every subsidized health plan, we all help pay the insurance rate of a company that is probably offering the lowest possible benefits to qualify, and is not legally obligated to use that subsidy for actual implementation of health services. Now, insurance companies are paid not only by people who could ordinarily afford it, but by the taxes subsidizing people who previously couldn’t.

Guess who helped write Obamacare?

Insurance companies.

For a moment, stop imaging things as they are, with widespread poverty, people fully employed at half of a living wage, and expensive, poor-quality healthcare.

Imagine a United States where everyone has the means with which to properly live, and where their right to a healthy life is secured, no matter their financial ability.

If that doesn’t do it for you, try thinking about an America, where a demobilized military and de-privatized health service (oh, and an abolished death penalty while we’re at it) happens to have saved the country something in the ballpark of trillions of dollars annually.

What would we do with all that money? I have some ideas.