Monday, October 3, 2011

Sometimes it's about the herd

I drove my daughter to Minneapolis and spent two days helping her get settled for the start of law school at the University of Minnesota. This required much driving on the interstate highways in and around the city, which carry a lot of traffic all day long. Despite the heavy traffic, it is easy to merge, change lanes and keep track of everyone.
 The distinctive feature of Minneapolis traffic is the mentality of motorists to watch out for each other and accommodate each other. I call it the “cooperative model” of working together so everyone gets where they need to go quickly, safely – efficiently. Compare this to the “competitive model” employed by the motorists on the Interstates around and through Denver, where the overriding mentality is “every man for himself.”
 What they have on Minneapolis roads is a sense of community, of people whose welfare is tied together, recognizing that helping someone else benefits me. And that is what is sadly missing not just on Denver highways but in some of the large debates in Wyoming and our country, where law- and policy-making become competitive sports to score points. This characterizes most of the discussion of health care reform. If you’ve read The Healing of America by T.R. Reid, you know that the United States has a remarkably inefficient model of providing health care – costing twice as much as other developed countries to achieve a ranking of 37th best health care in the world.
 I had a recent conversation with a very nice individual for whom the domestic issues of health care and unemployment were solved by deciding it was someone else’s problem. You assign responsibility, and job done! It’s their fault (or their family’s fault) for being out of work or being poor or being uninsured, so end of discussion.
 The thing is that we all benefit when people get health care, when they stay healthy, when people are educated, when people are productive citizens who buy goods and services and who pay taxes. (And by the way, we all end up paying for all the health care consumed in our country – including care for people who are uninsured or underinsured –only we do it in the most inefficient and costly method possible.)
 It is this lack of community (“not my problem”) that permits the thoughtless individual to toss a cigarette butt out the car window or talk loudly to his companion at the movies or speed through an already-turned-red light. These are relatively minor annoyances. Others are serious and are lightly illegal, for instance driving while drunk. 
 In fact, people who argue for individual responsibility in order to deny community interest are just arguing for self-indulgence. They so conveniently ignore the individual’s responsibility to the community. That is not the admirable defiance of the maverick. That is irresponsible disregard for the herd. 
 I argue for enlightened self-interest and a sense of community. Take a lesson from Minneapolis highways. Our welfare is tied together in health care, education and many other ways. Let’s respond responsibly.