The news about the H1N1 flu pandemic is turning out to be very interesting in unexpected ways.
It is critical to understand that, starting in 1980 with Pres. Reagan, our public health infrastructure has been eviscerated. After all, if the government can do no good and is by definition “the problem”, why pay for a public health infrastructure?
The real problem is that now we are facing a sharp peak, an exponential rate of growth, in the H1N1 pandemic. This peak will range from about October 15 – November 21. A consequence of Pres. Reagan’s political philosophy, and resultant under-funding of public health, is that, now that we need all of the benefits of a public health infrastructure to inform, guide and help us weather this storm, we have to ask if we actually have what we need. Do we know what is happening in enough detail in time to make the best decisions in a timely and effective manner?
H1N1 may yet again prove the fallacy of the the notion that only the private sector can solve our problems and the public sector can never be the answer. The spike in absenteeism caused by H1N1, for example, is apt to have a measurable impact on 4th quarter GDP. Will this have political consequences in the mid-term elections? Will the fruits of the Reagan era, and all of their unintended negative consequences, be blamed on the current Administration?
A key test is whether the government, despite the Reagan/Bush heritage, will have enough information to be able to offer sufficiently accurate information and appropriate timely responses to maintain public trust. This remains to be seen. There is already evidence of institutions in Washington sending employees home when a co-worker develops H1N1 but swearing the employees to secrecy. This intellectually dishonest ‘cover up’ denies the public health services the very data they must have to maintain the public’s trust. How long will this be tolerated?
So far we have seen the disastrous results of the Reagan/Bush philosophy of the government and its regulations as always being the problem, and never right, in the current economic and housing turmoil we are suffering through. We are seeing the same terrible consequences of the view that the private sector is the only and best answer when it comes to the bloated cost of our fragmented healthcare system that still leaves 10s of millions of American uninsured or under-insured. H1N1 may show us another tragic consequence of the blighted and simplistically one sided views of the market fundamentalist.
The question everyone should be asking is: What can the private sector in the US get right at all? Not Wall Street. Not automobiles. Not healthcare for all. Not secure home ownership you can believe in. Not a stable and secure environment that gets better from generation to generation. Not soils that have increasing carbon content and biological vitality. Not a diet that does not promote diabetes and other costly health problems. Not secure employment with a retirement plan to you can trust to be there when you need it. And the list goes on. Not even a job for everyone who wants one.
The answer is simply that neither the private sector nor the public sector is sufficient. Both are limited by imperfect knowledge and constrained by the seven deadly sins, human nature. It is clearly necessary for both the private and public sectors to work together to overcome these endless limitations as best they can.
America will not regain its vitality until the private and public sectors, working together, instead of against one another, form a synergy that is greater than the sum of the parts. This will require the re-establishment of the separation of State, Church, and the Private Sector. This would truly be Change We Can Believe In.