Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Replace “Government” by “Corporation”

One benefit of the whole US health care debate (debacle?) is that I finally realized one key difference between the United States and Europe (or at least France). A debate works a bit like “Capture the Flag” – the debaters try to claim some concepts or keywords, which will give them a dominant position, and remove the need to produce any reasonable argument. One extreme example of such a battle for the flag is Godwin’s Law: the first party who manages to assimilate the other side to Nazis gains dominant ground, and you can bet any rational (or simply civil) discussion is over after that point.

I realized that in the political debate on both sides of the Atlantic, “Government” and “Corporations” play the role of such flags – but the roles are reversed. If you manage to claim that the other party’s solution gives more responsibility to the Government in the US, you are on solid ground – because Government’s intentions are suspect, whereas a market-based, free-enterprise solution, is by default virtuous, and what is good for Corporations, is good for the general public. In Europe, a solution that shifts responsibilities from Government to Corporations is suspect, because Corporations don’t serve the public interest: they will do anything for a buck to please the shareholders.

You can see this at play in the Health Care debate in the US: while most Americans seem to actually support the components of the bill, its approval (and the whole debate with it) has sunk, dragged down by questions around whether pharmaceutical and insurance companies will suffer from it, and whether the bill means that the government will have Death Panels to decide whether to pull the plug on Grand’ma. Conversely, a sure way to get the French striking and marching in the streets is to propose any form of involvement of private Corporations in the education system (medical works, too).

What I find interesting is that it wasn’t obvious to me earlier; probably because on the surface, the debate looks identical, and revolves around the same concepts – but the underlying value system is reversed.