The U.S. Congress has passed health care legislation. Now what? What are the ramifications and where are we headed as a democracy? Let me say that I am not one that believes all was right with the U.S. health care system prior to this legislation. There were certainly things to be fixed. It will be some time before we truly know the impact of this legislation on our current health care system-but my actual concern lies elsewhere. What kind of nation are we becoming? The philosophy of government that has brought us to this point is much more troubling to me than the actual bill that was passed. Is this a significant step towards socialism? I am not sure-it feels that way-certainly many conservative pundits are telling us that this is huge move toward becoming a socialist country.
I currently live in Florence, Italy. Italy is a socialist country through and through. It is still a democracy-but a social democracy. Italy has “universal health care.” Italians receive most all of their health care “free of charge”. Prescriptions are largely “free”. Of course most Italians are taxed at a 40% tax rate-so the concept of “free” is somewhat of a myth. But here is the kicker-unless you have a life threatening situation you enter the cue. In other words it is not uncommon to have to wait anywhere from three to six months to see a physician or have a medical procedure done. You get “in line” with all the other Italians who need health care and you wait. The government determines your need and timing-not you. This has become so problematic to Italians that a private health care system has grown up beside the social system. Several months ago I needed to have a sports hernia surgery done-I was in pain. It was not life threatening-but it was certainly uncomfortable and greatly limited my normal activity. We found a surgeon and he told me that I could have the operation through the social system in about six months-or I could see him under the private system and have the surgery in a week. Guess which option I chose. Guess which option most Italians are choosing if they can afford to do so. There is a thriving private health care industry along side the socialist one-because the social one is so inefficient and removes the decision making from the patient. So sadly many Italians pay a 40% tax rate and still have to pay for medical procedures to get them done in a timely fashion. By the way-contrary to Michael Moore, the situation is not different in most European nations. I have friends in the UK and France and the end result is largely the same.
But here is my greater concern. What is the net affect of socialism on a people? These are only my observations and opinions. And I must say that I have only lived in this country for four years. But my ministry is to university students and I talk to them often. And I talk to adults often too through many of my kids settings. Here are the results I see from an over taxed, over regulated, socialist nation:
1. The middle class is rapidly disappearing. Sadly, in every society, no matter what form of government they have, there will always be the rich and the poor. Scripture even declares that we will always have the poor with us. There is no such thing as legislated fiscal equality. But historically it has been the middle class that provides the ability, good will, and generosity to help the poor. If you eliminate the middle class you are left with a feudal society with very clear haves and have nots.
2. Lawlessness and inefficiency greatly increase. Italy estimated last year that over 6 billion euros were lost in unpaid taxes. Is that a surprise? If you have a tax rate at 40% or above-anyone with money will try and find every means they can to circumvent the system-legal or illegal. In this case most of the tax dodging is illegal-hiding money in Swiss accounts. And the inefficiency is stifling at times. Anything related to the government is usually a three plus trip encounter. There simply is not reason or will to genuinely serve.
3. Hope is a fleeting attitude. Italians will quickly tell you that “the beautiful life” is gone in Italian society. Students have very little hope of getting a job in their field or ever owning their own home. Therefore there is a significant “brain drain” going on it Italy. The best and brightest are fleeing to anywhere that provides them with better opportunity and a true chance to succeed on their own merit.
4. There is no impetus for change. There is a lot of complaining but very little impetus for change. Status quo is the order of the day. So while Italy is certainly not 3rd world-it is definitely old world. I have rarely seen so many protests and strikes in one country-but at the end of the day most Italians will tell you it is simply a national sport-because nothing will really change. When you take away creativity and an entrepreneurial spirit from a society you kill it’s will. That is what I see on a regular basis here.
Again, these are just my observations and opinions. Others certainly will feel differently.
In the midst of this I have to say that my hope is not in a government-at least I hope I can say that honestly. God is still on His throne. I do believe that the gospel shines brightest in darkness. I do believe that the gospel is going to have great inroads in Italy because of the current fabric of society. That may need to become more and more true in the U.S. as well.