Why stop with healthcare? A robust public option for the necessities

Published online 2 August 2009.

In light of recent enthusiasm for a “robust public option” on Big Orange I thought it apropos to suggest other “robust public option” solutions to the routine denial of necessities offered Americans by their beloved capitalist system.

(Crossposted at Docudharma)

In this diary about two weeks ago I pointed out that individual mandates may not be such a great idea for folks who are financially screwed:

NPR told us back in 2005 that “Some 38 million people in America are considered “food insecure” — they have trouble finding the money to keep food on the table.”  And that was supposedly the state of affairs before the economy tanked.  I feed these people every Monday with surplus vegetables/ fruit begged from my local Farmer’s Market.  Is the US government really prepared to tell these folks that they have to buy “health coverage”?  How about “food coverage,” or “rent coverage,” first?  People are losing their homes and jobs and practically nobody can find money.  Is an “individual mandate” for health insurance really the most important thing for them to be paying right now?

So presumably in the intervening two weeks you’ve all been calling your Congresscritters, telling them to support a robust public option in “health care reform.”  The reasoning behind this is that for-profit entities, which socialize costs and privatize profits, should not be the only option for Americans looking for health care plans.

Well, OK.  I still think we need to do something about hunger and homelessness in America, beyond that of granting the malnourished and weather-beaten masses some access to Medicaid, if we can trust Congress to leave it in the final version of the bill.  So how about public options in food and shelter?

Food is, of course, at least as much of a necessity as medical care.  The problem with food is one of quality, and of distribution under capitalist conditions.  The capitalist system, as Robert Albritton described it in Let Them Eat Junk, is well-suited to plying paying consumers with addictive foods full of fat and sugars, while nearly a billion go hungry because they don’t have enough money to pay for food.  Meanwhile, the consumption of processed and preserved foods as well as foods grown with artificial fertilizers is strongly correlated with a number of old-age-associated diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimers.  Meanwhile, our food infrastructure, as Michael Pollan points out in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, is enormously dependent upon consumption of mass quantities of corn and of fossil fuel energy, and favorable toward massive corporate producers.  And then there’s the ecological tragedy of corporate food; noxious pesticides, genetically modified organisms, and a great reduction in varieties of plant (uh, I don’t eat animals) due to genetic standardization.

Thus we need a robust public option in food.  It should be, like the robust public option, available on day one to everyone, and accountable to Congress and the voters.  It should provide everyone with access to land whereby we might all grow our own food, through block grants to cities purchasing land for community gardens.  It should subsidize local, small-scale organic farmers by creating a sort of “food insurance” program that would 1) be available to everyone and 2) make affordable an adequate supply of said food from those farmers, available from government-supported organic food restaurants if necessary.  Agriculture already receives tons of subsidies from the US government.  It’s time we made it work for us.

And how about a robust public option in shelter?  Rents are out of control in much of the country when compared to wages, and home ownership is simply out of the question in many places.  Everyone should have the right to an affordable place to live of some sort, and the calls of urban NIMBYs that the homeless should “move elsewhere” ring hollow.

Thus everyone should have the option of being able to rent from the government.  Oh, sure, you might only be able to rent a small room in a building, but everyone would have the right to kitchen privileges and a rent that wouldn’t be out of the range of affordability.  People would be able to make the rents through a robust public option in jobs, which would give everyone the right to work for the government, too.

I’m sure the details could be worked out to everyone’s satisfaction.  At any rate, I see no reason to stop with health care.  Since the establishment of a “robust public option” in health insurance will run contrary to the official ideology of the neoliberal state, it’s time we started to look for more, and more creative, ways of transgressing the last thirty years of rip-off government.

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