American Civilisation: An Oxymoron?

US popular and political mindsets are really perpexing to the outsider. Congress is deeply divided over White House proposals for health care reform legislation which will establish a government-run health insurance plan. Previous attempts under President Clinton failed, with staunch opposition from within his own party, as now under Obama. Apparently the whole US free enterprise edifice and its philosophical underpinnings are under threat from such a long overdue and seemingly civilised forward step. The opposition is vociferous.

Presently 47 million US citizens have no health insurance at all, and the proposed government plan will cover an estimated 31 million of them. The private health insurance industry will continue unfettered as before, so its hardly a radical ‘nationalisation’ of their health system. But something in their genes stops Americans from wanting to help their most disadvantaged fellow citizens – surely one of the hallmarks of a civilised society. What’s going on there? (Imagine Australia without Medicare)

The US health reform plan is estimated to cost US$848 billion over ten years. Compare this with their annual military budgets: in 2010 the ‘base’ defense department budget is $497 billion plus another $130 billion for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Total expenditure on those wars since 2001 is now estimated at $951 billion. At current troop levels the Afghan war costs $3.6 billion per month. Do the sums: you could pay for the proposed health plan out of the military budget and still fight a neat little Afghan war.

Honestly, why all that fuss and ferocious resistance by both US elected representatives and their voters to the idea of assuring their citizens at least some basic health care, rather than none? If that’s setting an example as leaders of the free world, then civilisation still hasn’t taken hold in the good ol’ US of A. Come to think of it, when you consider American predilections for carrying guns, banning teaching of evolution in favour of ‘creationism’, and the death penalty, maybe it makes perfect sense. As does exporting democracy to Afghanistan and elsewhere.


  1. Thanks for the input TSB – Stiglitz’s disclosure of the costing of dead troops in defense budgets, and real total estimates makes chilling reading too.

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