The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

The Red Queen’s Race, Neoliberalism & Why Healthcare Is Being Privatized

Back in the early 2000s I remember reading an interview with Ted Turner, who founded CNN and later sold it. He wasn’t happy with how it was being run so the reporter asked him why he didn’t buy it back.

He explained that he had only a few billion dollars, which meant he wasn’t “in the game” anymore. People mocked him for it, since to a normal person that’s more money than they could ever use, but he was right. He had sold, and now he couldn’t re-buy; prices for key assets like CNN had gone up.

This the basic issue the real players, the mega-rich and the CEOs who run the big companies face. The amount of money that was enough last year isn’t enough this year, let alone in five years. Fall behind and soon you’re out of the game. This doesn’t have to be personal money, just money you control, so if you have effective management control of a company you don’t have ownership control of, you’re in the game, though such people generally reward themselves massively, so they at least aren’t embarassed in front of their peers.

Different oligarchs are competing against each other and so are different groups: tech, finance, manufacturing, military-industrial, etc…  If one gets enough of an advantage, then they buy out the others, and even if you’re still filthy rich, you’re out of the game and nowhere near as powerful as those still in the game.

As everyone knows now, the rich have been taking more and more of pie. The most famous chart is the labor productivity vs. wages one:

Furthermore, the real players have been narrowing: there are fewer and fewer people who are really in the game. Vast waves of consolidation in almost every industry have created oligopolies and monopolies, because those sorts of businesses can squeeze customers. Some games are easier to squeeze than others: healthcare is a famous example as people will pay almost anything to live. There’s a reason Bill Gates is buying up all the farmland he can get, too, with environmental disaster onrushing, he knows that those who control food will (with enough political cover) also clean up.

But at the end of the day, everyone is taking from the same pool: any increase in wealth that doesn’t come from productivity increases has to come from someone else. The rich do take from each other, though they play by the rule that unless you’ve betrayed other elites  you get to stay wealthy, but most of what they take still has to come from the masses.

Unfortunately they’ve been squeezing the masses for 40 to 50 years, maybe a little more. So they have to keep finding new places to squeeze. This is why power has been privatized and de-regulated; why water and sewage is privatized in the UK (and sewage is in the rivers again), and so on.

But in those countries with public health systems (aka. not the US) like Canada and the UK, well, that’s a place where the full squeeze hasn’t been put on. Prices can easily be raised, by moving to the profit maximizing price (insulin at $800, like in the US, and so on), though it means a lot of people will suffer and die.

There’s one last big public heifer to be taken down and consumed, in other words. And if you don’t get in on it, well, your rivals will and they’ll be richer than you, and you stand a good chance of being forced out of the game.

So, with a few exceptions (manufacturing used to be one of them), the elite consensus is to privatize health care. It’s a big cow, sitting there waiting to be chopped up, and if you get a big enough chunk you may be able to buy out some rivals or at least stay in the game.

And in some cases it’s pretty much the last one. In the UK, it’s the only thing of worth the government owns which it hasn’t privatized. So, as everyone understands by now, you deliberately underfund and sabotage it, then call in the private sector because it isn’t working well. The same thing is happening in multiple Canadian provinces, including where I live in Ontario.

And the real players will become fewer and fewer, and if it means that you die or suffer, well, that’s a price the players are willing to pay so they can stay in the game.

As the game narrows, the players will also turn even more on each other. This has already happened with the TransAtlantic elite, who used to more or less cooperate: the US is now feasting on Europe. But then the Germans had been feeding on much of the rest of Europe already. And it’s obvious that Chinese and US elites are moving to a confrontation, and this is driven in great part by the refusal of the CCP to allow anything important in their economy to be controlled by foreigners.

Sadly, there is a real economy, and it is being fantastically mismanaged, not least by allowing the real carrying capacity of the world to collapse. Elites had such a huge pie (to change metaphors) that it usually made more sense to fight over it than to cooperate to grow it more. So we’re at the beginning stages of collapse. There will come a time when the pie starts to shrink in ways no one can deny.

The silver lining, such as it is, is that so much will have been privatized and screwed up that when we finally do get serious about change, assuming we avoid a Dark Age (not a sure thing) we will be able to do things differently, since there will be so little legacy left.

It’s not much of a silver lining, but destruction does make change possible.


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Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – January 22, 2023


A Story About How Health Care Privatization Happens


  1. Eric Anderson

    Groan …
    Thanks Ian. Coupled with Thom Hartmann’s article that Tony highlighted yesterday the picture is ever more clear. I’ll simply add a link to a thread I posted over on Mastodon recently w/r/t to the means by which the western elite seek to consolidate approval of their insanity among the proles:

    People just don’t seem to realize that today’s elite are literally superhuman. The amount of power their money buys them in being able to mobile massive amounts of manpower (think attorney’s and accountants) just boggle the imagination. Most never dream of the machinations they’re capable of.

    But, cut them and they still bleed red.

  2. different clue

    In America and Canada there is also another large zone of privatizable public wealth.
    That would be the Public Lands. I don’t know all the different categories of Public Lands in Canada . . . National Parks, Provincial Parks, Crown Lands?

    In America that would be National Parks and Refuges, National Forests, Taylor Act Grazing Lands, BLM lands, etc. If/when the private upper class uses its government butlers to try privatizing the Public Lands, how will the heavily armed citizens living next to the Public Lands react? Will they support the program? Or will they make it “difficult”?

  3. Eric Anderson

    different clue:
    As a Rocky Mountain inhabitant, I can honestly attest they’re all for it. They think it’s “their” land. And “they” really don’t care two craps about it if they can’t chop it, harvest it, mine it, dam it, drape their Gasden flags over, or drive over it in their trucks, motorcycles, 4-wheelers, snowmobiles, and RVs.

    Think Ammon Bundy … but dumber. If Fox says it, it’s gospel.

  4. different clue

    @Eric Anderson,

    Well, I’m sorry to hear that. If they discover that they themselves are not the people who will get the privatised land ( if it is privatised), but rather various millionaires and billionaires and investor syndicates and private equity firms; will they be disappointed and upset? Or will they take comfort in the fact that at least somehow somewhere . . . a liberal got owned?

  5. Trinity

    Also re: public lands, I think it was Matt Stoller who exposed that those park fees the public pay go right into the pockets of Booz Allen Hamilton, one of the biggest private government contractors.

  6. Feral Finster

    The reason social democracy took hold was because it proved necessary to throw the masses a share of The Goodies, lest they turn to communism. This was especially true in western Europe, where communist parties had a significant electoral share.

    Now that communism is no longer a threat, that share of the loot has been rescinded.

  7. bruce wilder

    oh those bumpkins! if it weren’t for their bad attitudes, what a wonderful world it would be, eh?

    we right-thinking folks just need to band together, hunker down and plant gardens or drive electric vehicles or somethun, somethun

    in Tony’s weekend wrap, there was a Thomas Frank interview where he recalled a 1991 book — a bestseller at the time, widely discussed — America: What Went Wrong? The Crisis Deepens, by Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele, updated in 2000, Amazon helpfully informs me. Frank’s point is that it made an impression, but no lasting impression on politics or political discourse and true to Ian’s point, the system driven by its unaltered logic just accelerates its decay. Then in 1991 it was statistical declines in income and standards of living, felt to be sure, but now it is actual, sustained declines in life expectancy amid a crisis of despair.

    and if anything there is less concern expressed in mainstream political discourse today than in 1991.

    the thing about a Red Queen’s race is, as Ian says, almost no one can finally win even as fewer and fewer can even play. It is a game that produces bitter results for the mass standing by. the political option of policy interventions to change the game remains somehow out-of-limits, beyond reach, beyond even popular, shared understanding — are meta-level reforms even conceivable?

    the spectacle of the insane struggle over the “debt ceiling” might be a case in point: the radical Republicans are alarmed — credit them with having enough sense to be alarmed about economic trends even if their understanding of the mechanisms involved is fractured — and the Democrats dismiss their alarm in favor of their policy of never changing anything fundamental.

  8. Eric Anderson

    Bruce Wilder:
    Am I to understand “we right-thinking folks” is an admission of low cognitive complexity? Take a stroll down this list of citations:

    W/r/t the public lands debate — do have any claim to knowing what you’re talking about? Do you live in the rural American west? Have you studied the issues at all? Do you know anything about:
    1) The Madison/Jefferson debate in re the western lands?
    2) “Beyond the 100th Meridian?”
    3) The issues surrounding the Wildland Urban Interface?
    4) The Colorado River Compact?
    5) The Sagebrush Rebellion?
    6) RS 2477?
    7) Norton v. SUWA?
    8) The “Timber Wars”?
    9) Organic Act, NEPA, ESA, CWA, HFRA, APA, FRRPA?
    10) Gifford Pinchot, John Wesley Powell, Muir, Dave Foreman?

    I could likely extend this list to over 100 topics most urbanites have no clue about if they haven’t been specifically educated to apprehend them.
    That said, I just so happen to have been born and raised in the Northern Rocky Mountains. Grew up during the Timber Wars and Sagebrush Rebellion years. And as such, took great interest in the topics, to become an attorney with certificates in Water, Environmental, and Natural Resource law — coupled w/a MS in Bioregional Planning and Community Design.

    So, could please reserve your “Nuke a Gay Whale for Christ” arguments for a less nuanced community? Maybe check out Drudge.

  9. Ché Pasa


    I used to wonder what was the source of the antagonism toward “gubmit heath care” in the USofA. It’s not because of crapification such as is being implemented in Canada and Britain and widely elsewhere where there has been a functioning universal health care system until the crapifyers got hold of it.

    There has never been a universal health care system in the United States, let alone a “gubmit” run one.

    What there was and may still be (I don’t know) was a charity health care system that meant if you couldn’t afford to pay you went to “County” — a low-cost, no-cost charity hospital in most counties in the land, run and funded by the county with occasional injections of added money from the state, not from the feds. They were widely considered places you went only in extremis, places you went to die.

    They did provide care, sometimes excellent care, but because patients were in such bad shape when they got there, often there wasn’t much that could be done. And many county hospitals wanted something in return for care. If the patient couldn’t pay, they could be experimented on, no?

    When I was very young (adult) I had to go to “County” with pneumonia. I couldn’t pay. If I recall correctly, it was before Medicaid. Or if it existed, it was very new. I was put in the charity ward, not a pleasant place, and the man in the next bed was truly fixin’ to die. Poor guy. He didn’t think he was being treated (for a heart ailment, I think) I was being overtreated if anything, and they were using me for teaching purposes. I nearly died. Several times. But they brought me back! So there is that.

    At any rate, what I went through at County wasn’t that unusual. What the guy in the next bed was going through wasn’t that unusual, either. There is a strong memory of that sort of thing among Americans. So many resist any sort of government health care. Even if they use it. (Medicare, Medicaid, VA, IHS and on and on.)

    To watch excellent government run health care services deteriorate and be privatized — as in Britain and Canada and elsewhere — is very troubling. But what passed for government health care in the US, county hospitals, was more so. I think there’s a primal fear of going back to that.

  10. Eric Anderson

    Apologies for going off folks. I broke my no commenting before my second cup of coffee rule — and the topic is obviously very near and dear to my heart.

  11. Eric Anderson

    @different clue —
    It is a sorry state of affairs. You’re keen to observe it. It really does boggle my mind how detached so many humans are from the land. As I quoted Wendell Berry here some time ago: “If you don’t ‘know’ where you are, you don’t know who you are. So many lost souls … it’s no wonder humanity is “where” it is today.

    Fortunately, however, there is also a large and dedicated cadre of public lands defenders who straight up lose their minds whenever serious challenges are posed to our public lands legacy. And, fortunately, many legal challenges have been tried and all have crashed and burned — while simultaneously burning mountains of cash in the attempt. They run smack into the Supremacy Clause every time. The best, and few successful state challenges, have arisen under the RS 2477 loophole I mentioned upthread. But the best those has ever bought are minor rights of way incursions. Most RS2477 challenges die under the historical research necessary to clear a high legal bar. Also an expensive proposition. I actually had the opportunity to do a ton research in opposition to a RS 2477 challenge when I was interning with the Region 1 U.S. Forest Service Office of General Counsel while I was in law school. That challenged died for lack of “standing.”

    Fascinating stuff if that’s your bag. Google it … there be deep rabbit holes there.

  12. Eric Anderson

    Oh, those halcyon days when I had time to write blog posts w/o 20 clients constantly clawing for my brain space. Once again, Ian’s the smart one.

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