July 25, 2012
At What Cost?
It has been suggested that the purpose of a college education is to ease the transition into adulthood. After several decades teaching college-age students, I would agree, only substituting delay and prevent for ease.
Eric Hoffer wrote in “The Ordeal of Change” (1963) that the secret of America was the trauma undergone by the immigrants. They — my ancestors and yours — came here with nothing, most ignorant of the language, most ignorant of the land and the cultures, and ignorant of what would be expected of them. Having suffered to learn the above, they were, in effect, born anew. Their strength was the lack of fear of challenge. They had paid for the immunity.
Little, and nothing of worth, is acquired without cost. Even the love of family, and even the love of God must be earned, kept and reciprocated. But the organization or individual who refuses to acknowledge cost, who demands goods, services or status as a right rejects the essence of Americanism and the hard-won heritage left us by those who paid.
There is a cost for education. Teachers must be paid. That education not paid for is appreciated by students in direct proportion to its cost.
There is a cost for housing. Someone must improve the land and build the structures. Private enterprise must strike a bargain with buyers or potential buyers and find a mutually attractive price. The cost of subsidized housing is decline in building (what builder or landlord would work to sell at a loss?) and/or quality, and increase in graft and corruption. (Someone along the line — administrator, bureaucrat or clerk or functionary — is, finally, in charge of doling out sub-cost housing; and he has a powerful incentive to subvention and theft, as the potential occupant has to bribery.)
There is a cost for food. That one-seventh of Americans are now receiving some sort of government dole in food is not a sign of compassion, but of money leached from the actual economy (free exchange of services and goods) — which money must, if left in the free market, produce jobs, which produce groceries.
There is a cost for health care. The result desired by most Americans is not improved insurance, but improved care. Semantically, this misunderstanding is about to bankrupt our country. The profession of medicine exists to promote care. Insurance exists to increase premiums and decrease service and claims. That is what insurance does. To reconfigure the patient-doctor relationship into one of patient-bureaucrat is, as we watch, the destruction of the profession of medicine, and a triumph of the notion of equality. Under Obamacare, there will be third-rate, grudging, non-responsive health care for all. The cost of this illusion will be national bankruptcy.
There is a cost for security. The cop on the corner carries a sidearm, as the community has licensed him, secondarily to use force, and primarily to advertise the community’s intention to protect itself. This advertisement would be less effective were he only to carry a bumper sticker.
The same is true globally. Peace is preserved in the world not through the proclamation of good intentions, or the sick suggestion of guilt, but by the creditable advertisement of power and of the nation’s willingness to use it. An individual, a community, a country may delude itself that “we are all alike, and if we could just sit down at a table …” and so on. But we are not all alike. The homeowner and the burglar cannot coexist happily. Nor can Israel and Islamic jihad. One must suffer.
Mobility has a cost. Energy must come from somewhere, and its location and difficulty of extraction will carry a price. The wealthy can buy electric cars and vote for entire landscapes defaced by windmills*, but how will the trucks bring them their food?
Knowledge has a cost. Magic phrases may hide but cannot change the eternal, difficult realities of war and peace, poverty and wealth. Our denial, in four years, has cost this: the doubling of the national debt, the massive increase in the size of government, a decrease in the freedom of the individual and of the states, the depletion of our armed forces, a crippled economy.
There is no way to “ease the transition” into national health, but we may accept the trauma; which is to say, face our difficulties and, like all other immigrants, figure out the price and choose to pay it.
Our choice in November is between a businessman, with expertise in cost-benefit analysis, and a community organizer who offered to trade us our cow for the magic beans. And now it’s time to reckon up the cost of his performance.
* Landscapes are also defaced by strip mining, but only one of the two processes provides useful energy.
David Mamet is a Pulitzer Prize-winning and Tony- and Oscar-nominated playwright, essayist, screenwriter and film director. His latest book is “The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture” (Sentinel).