Rousseau didn’t believe the rights he called for existed in our natural state. They became necessary when we began to live in large groups. It is necessary to trust that men will have the same general values if we travel a mile from home, or a hundred miles. We hope not to be robbed or murdered. We hope a system of trade allows us to earn a living and obtain what we need. We hope those we find there treat each other, and strangers, decently. We hope our boat hasn’t landed us on the shores of a libertarian nation.
The ideas of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau led logically to the American and French Revolutions. The preamble to our Declaration of Independence could well have been dictated by any one of the three. Our revolution, like so many, is still underway. Universal health care happens to be its current battlefield.
I am naive enough to think that universal care is obviously good. I don’t say how it should be implemented or regulated. I say we should implement it and regulate it as well as we can, and improve it through our votes and our legislature. This is something we owe to the future. The United States is shamefully the only Western democracy without universal health care. All of the nations that we inspired by our revolution, including France, have moved ahead on us on this.
I am told we cannot trust the government. I believe we must trust it, and work to make it trustworthy. We are told the free enterprise system will sort things out, but it has not. When insurance companies direct millions toward lobbying and advertising against a health care system, every dollar is being withheld from sick people. When it goes to salaries, executive jets, corporate edifices and legislative manipulation, it isn’t going to Amy Caudle.
The fallacy of the free enterprise argument is that there is a faith that corporations are motivated to bring about the public good. Corporations are motivated to maximize profits for shareholders. That is the primary mission of all corporate executives, and they retain their jobs by placing the bottom line and the stock price above all else.
If you doubt it, I recommend a current documentary named “Crude,” by Joe Berlinger. It relates the story of a group of Indians who have occupied the Ecuadorean rain forest since time immemorial. They existed in unison with nature, living off the land and for the land, governed by themselves. They were, if you will, Noble Savages. Or perhaps they were an ideal libertarian state. They occupy the forest filmed by Herzog in “Fitzcarraldo.”
It was their misfortune that oil was discovered beneath their forest. Texaco, later called Chevron, moved in with the permission of the national government, which had previously ignored them. It laid waste to square miles of forest, struck oil, had an oil spill that blighted the river highway of the Indians, and pumped billions of gallons of toxic waste into the river. One independent estimate is that remediation should cost Chevron $27 billion.
We meet a man whose little daughter went splashing in the river one day and was dead within 24 hours. The water is lethal to drink. Many others died. Vegetation was destroyed. Fish disappeared. The Indians are represented by a determined local lawyer and an American lawyer working pro bono. Chevron has deployed a legal team that prevented the complaint from even coming to court for ten years. There is still no resolution. The corporation is prepared to fight this forever.