I have played a lot of Sim City in my day, right from the heavily pixelated original to the fancy new ones where you can zoom in far enough to see wads of gum on the sidewalk. In all of these games, you make a functioning city by managing things like water supplies, electrical plants, road systems, fire coverage, and the police force. You can build it any way that you want, nurturing it into a space-based metropolis or driving it into slummy obscurity.
Playing this game teaches a few basic things about urban and rural management:
- Land value mysteriously drops when you build a prison in the middle of a suburb.
- Electricity does not travel very far through the air, instead relying on wires to get it to buildings.
- Your city will remain a stunted toadstool if your citizens are poorly educated and unhealthy.
This isn’t rocket science people. It isn’t even advanced economics. If your citizen base is unable to afford healthcare and gets lousy schooling, they won’t come close to being able to compete against a world that is quickly getting healthier and smarter than you.
If, by now, you haven’t figured out that I’m talking about my neighbour to the south, the great United States of America, you’re probably reading this from a computer in the US.
Now, I feel very fortunate to have been born in Canada, a country with a commitment to free healthcare, strong education, and the preservation of the musk ox. I like it here. The weather is better than most American’s give us credit for (try living in Wisconsin and compare it to Hamilton any day of the week), and our beer is vastly superior.
We also have this loopy idea that our society as a whole suffers when a significant percentage of our population dies because of things like strep throat, infected toenails, and self-performed sutures. The average American has a life expectancy that ranks only 38th in the world. You’ll likely live longer in Cuba, a desperately poor, isolated island nation with limited natural resources and a draconian trade embargo impressed upon it. How is this possible in a place that ranks in the top ten for GDP per capita (or, to put it simply, a place where there is so much bloody money)?
You know what? That isn’t even the most boggling question I can think to ask the US as a whole.
This is the big one: “Why don’t you guys care about each other at all?”
Every time I see some show about the US (like the brilliant Stephen Fry in America) the “average” American always says the same thing (almost verbatim):
“I love America. I think that America is the greatest country in the world.”
If you loved America, and I mean really loved it, don’t you think that you should love those other people living in it? Or do you think of America as some kind of mythic creature that exists without the need for citizenry, some hallowed idea where refusing to share and refusing to care are chiselled into giant stone blocks, where the bodies of the poor are left to rot in the sun.
It is particularly vexing to hear right wing Conservatives that purport to be Christians fighting tooth and nail to keep Americans, their neighbours, the people that Jesus told them to love as they love themselves, from getting the most basic, desperately needed medical treatment, treatment that has been taken away from them by soulless insurance companies that couldn’t tell a varicose vein from the gaping black hole their executives have in place of a heart. They cry “Socialism!” without a clue what the word means. They hide behind rhetoric to keep from acting out the most basic act of charity that their God demands of them: to care for those that cannot care for themselves.
Yeah, I know, I’m soap-boxing here. But I almost lost my father not too long ago. His heart started to go what the medical community likes to call “wonky bananas” last year, and he was in hospital within an hour, and wired up to an internal pacemaker in days. He desperately needed help and the Canadian government gave it to him quickly, no questions asked, no bill left on the bedside table.
The Canadian people gave him that desperately needed help. They loved each other enough to allow the government to take a small part of the money that they earned to build hospitals, staff them, fill them with all manner of machines named only in cryptic acronyms (what the hell is a PCGT scanner?), and then open the doors to anyone that needed their help.
My father didn’t lose his house. He didn’t go bankrupt. He didn’t have to spend months fighting with insurance companies that hire more staff to claw-back coverage than they do to fulfill it. He had medical benefits. He might have been okay had he lived somewhere without public healthcare (though you have to cast quite widely for a place so backward or poor that they don’t have that (aside from the obvious)), but that doesn’t matter to me. I take comfort in knowing that the poorest man on the street could walk into a hospital and be given the same treatment as my father received.
A small, small step was taken recently in the United States. There was just barely enough goodwill and grace in the upper echelons of the political system to squeak though a bill that will bring some relief to the poor of that country.
The fact that it was so viciously opposed, along with every whisper of public healthcare, really makes me doubt that the barely-United States of America will ever live up to the title of Greatest Country in the World, no matter what its Stockholm-syndromed citizens say about it.