Saturday, March 07, 2009

The Greedy Green-Eyed Middlemonster

Not that anyone with any authority whatsoever cares what I think, but I've been letting this bang around in my head like a pinball long enough. I need to put it into words.

The great overarching problem we're facing in this country is a simple one, and unless we address it, nothing we do to work around it is going to make any damn difference.

There's a big huge monster in our national basement and we need to stop feeding it. Either starve it or shoot it, but stop feeding it. I call it the greedy green-eyed middlemonster. It's that entity that stands between each one of us and what we need, and everyone who has what we need and wants to provide it, and steals from both sides while giving almost nothing of value back to either of us.

In many cases, the greedy green-eyed middlemonster was a good idea when it was born, but a complete lack of control by the people it was created to protect has turned it into a voracious beast that no longer serves any purpose but to hunger, and to threaten our existence if we don't feed it.

Let's say you bought a puppy with the intention of having it grow up to be a loyal dog who would protect your property, but instead of training it, or even supervising it, you just left it in the basement and threw food down there until it got big, hoping that it would feel some loyalty and gratitude for the kibble and come charging up the stairs in your time of need. Instead, that hell-hound grew so large it completely filled your basement. Now it's too large and cumbersome to even get up the stairs, much less care about you or your property. It lives to eat, and since you can't even begin to keep up with it's intake demand, it begins eating the foundation and the support beams to sustain itself. If you venture into the basement it's likely to devour you, too.

Health insurance seemed like a good idea, too. We'll all send you money every month and you can put it somewhere safe. You can then dole it back out to us as we need it. Since we're all sending some in, and we don't all need it back at once, you can use some of mine to help out my neighbor when he's sick and use some of his to help me out when I'm sick. And since our piddly little individual amounts won't buy much stock, you can take all or our money and invest it so it grows. You can even pay a small portion of it to yourself for the bookkeeping.

But wait! You've stopped giving any of it back! You've paid yourselves off the top and left less than half of what we gave you to pay for the stuff we gave it to you for, and now you won't even pay for that! And you've created so many rules and regulations for us and our doctors (and none at all for yourselves) that we can't afford to get a hangnail fixed out of our own pockets, and god knows YOU won't pay for it, because we've had that toe all our lives and that hangnail is pre-existing. My doctor will, of course, refer me to a health care lending company that will let me make payments to them for my care ... for a fee.

It turns out we'd have been better off taking those insurance premiums we've been paying through employers for our entire working lives and putting them in a box under the bed every month. We'd have a tidy nest-egg by now. Plenty of cash to pay the doctor a fair price for the removal of a hangnail and maybe even a Pap smear while we're at it ... and he could have his money the day he provides the service and not have to pay a phalanx of collectors to badger you into paying him a small percentage of his fee a year from now.

So, how do I feel about health care reform and private insurance? Well, I don't feel good about it.

How about those mortgage lenders? You've got a house you need to sell and someone else needs a house to live in. Note, I said LIVE IN ... not "flip" or invest in or turn over to make a profit on ... live in. In the good old days, you and I would sit down and agree on a price for your house and we'd draw up a contract-for-deed. I'd give you money every month until the house was paid for, and then you'd sign it over to me. If I didn't pay you for it you'd still own it and you could sell it to someone else. You got every dime of my money to put in your pocket and I got a house to live in. But you had to wait for your money, so mortgage lending seemed like a good idea. You could get all your money upfront and I could still make payments. Of course, I'd have to pay a little interest fee to the broker so he could make a living, but it was a small amount over a long time, so that wasn't a big hardship.

But, wait! Now you and I never meet! Your people talk to my people who all talk to people neither of us ever see, and we both pay all those people to negotiate this deal for us. Even then, the people we deal with aren't really the people we deal with. Those people are far, far away and have never even been to our neighborhood, but they decide what your house is worth and whether I'm worthy of buying it. They sell me a promissory note and then they sell that promissory note a half dozen more times, and by the time I've actually paid for your house I've paid half again the price we agreed on. You didn't get that money, did you? No, I didn't think so.

If you want a car you have to talk to a bank. If you want a new roof you have to talk to a bank. If you want to fix up your bathroom you have to talk to a bank. I've never seen a bank with a car lot attached to it or a pile of shingles or toilets out back, but they're still the place you have to go if you want those things, and they're going to take a big chunk out of the price of that car or those shingles or that toilet in order for you to have them and the car and shingle and toilet guys to sell them to you.

There's something really wrong with this picture, and what we here in Nowhere can't understand is why nobody minds. Why are we not all standing in front of banks and insurance companies and large corporate headquarters with pitchforks and buckets of hot tar? Why do we accept that our government feels it's so vital to keep feeding these voracious middlemonsters? What's the worst that would happen if we didn't?

We might have to go back to a real free enterprise system. We might have to deal with each other. We might have to buy our books from little bookstores and drink our coffee in little coffee shops and eat our meals in little restaurants. We might have to shake hands to buy a car or a house. We might have to save our money. We might have to make payments to our doctor for services rendered ... and not pay a finance charge, just pay his damn bill on time.

We might have to save our money for big-ticket items and then pay a fair market price for them right up front. Or we might have to put them on lay-away. Does anyone remember lay-away???

Here in Nowhere we're about as close to being off the financial grid as you can be these days. We don't have a car payment, a mortgage or a single credit card. Ev does have health insurance, but it's a joke. She works for the largest health care provider in Southern Illinois and her own company health insurance has to be strong-armed into paying a bill to the hospital she works in ... the place that actually takes the money OUT of her paycheck every month for health insurance. This is just nuts, people.

None of this is benefiting people. It's not benefiting the supply side and it's not benefiting the demand side. It's benefiting the corporations that stand between the supply side and the demand side and preventing them from having anything but a passing acquaintance with one another.

And don't even get me started on farms vs agribusiness.

I don't want government regulations at this point. I want the whole damn thing to collapse and fail. I want insurance companies to go belly up. I want banks to fold like cheap suits. I want CitiGroup to crumble back into the non-conglomerated business it was created from. And then I want people who have something to sell to have to court the people who BUY it, and I want them to charge a fair fucking price for it. I want some power as a consumer.

I'm sick and tired of corporations putting pressure on the government to contrive to turn things that I "need" into things I can't survive without or am mandated by law to acquire and then contriving ways to charge me for them while simultaneously withholding them from me.

I want to buy my food from the people who produce it and buy my books from a little old dude in a quaint bookshop and eat my dinner in a restaurant that only exists in one location ... where the family that owns it lives and works and cooks actual food and employs the local high school kids to wait tables. I want my tax dollars to go to things that benefit the whole ... like a road that won't break my shocks or a school that actually teaches something or a power line that doesn't snap in a light breeze. I want the money I pay someone for a service (like insuring that I will get needed health care when the fuck I need it) to actually be given back to me when I need it, and I don't want to be treated like a thief for asking for it.

Oh. And I want people who want to come and live and work here and have a better life to be able to come and live and work here and have a better life. It would be extra nice if we actually had a better life to offer them ... and ourselves.

Is this so much to ask in the land of the free and the home of the brave?

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