Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Subsidiarity a natural part of human society?

I think I've said before that when the Superstate dies, as it will soon, people and local institutions will step in. Human beings are naturally tribal/herd animals. I have long thought that it is socialism and Statism that has created a kind of artificial callousness that will evaporate the instant it becomes again an unavoidable necessity for people to start looking after each other.

And I think it has already started. In Greece, the EU-imposed "austerity measures" may (or possibly may not) have resulted in the government rebalancing the books (we are talking about the Greeks, after all) but it has effectively put a stop to the common use of the Euro in parts of Greece where people have learned that if they want to keep eating, they have to do something else. This really does illustrate the wide gap between what the EU oligarchs want and what the actual people who live in the countries they rule need to keep their daily lives running.
Prices have been slashed, but customers are few.

Fisherman Christos Xegandakis laughs bitterly. He says business is so bad, it's time to start swapping goods.

"Give me two kilos of potatoes, and I give you a kilo of fish," he says. "Why not?

Indeed, many in debt-ridden Greece — where radical austerity measures have led to soaring unemployment, business closures and a credit crunch — are doing just that: turning to a simpler form of commerce, bartering.


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And here's a little afterthought.

In a few places in Greece the barter system has evolved rather quickly into a system of local small currency that may end up replacing the national adherence to the Euro. It's kind of reminiscent of the Greek plays actually. The Eurocrats forced the Greek government to accept the colossal bail-out package on acceptance of economic controls and "austerity measures". This was in order to "save the Euro" and to prevent Greece from falling back into its previous economic ways and reinstating the Drachma. In what might be a perfectly Greek irony, this action has forced local governments and small businesses to effectively abandon the Euro as the functioning currency.

Volos is also one of several Greek towns with a more formal type of barter network, which uses a currency called Local Alternative Unit, or TEM in Greek. One TEM is equal in value to one euro.

People sign up for free on the barter network's website, where they can post ads on what they can offer or what they want. Members exchange goods and services — for example, English and computer lessons, baby-sitting and plumbing repairs, medical visits and car-pooling — amassing TEM credit into an online account.

Some shops also accept TEMs, in the form of vouchers that function like checks.

Optician Klita Dimitriadis explains how it works. On a pair of 100-euro glasses, she'll take 30 percent in the alternative currency. She needs the 70 euros, she explains, in order to pay her employees, taxes and rent.

Dimitriadis then spends her TEMs at a monthly open-air farmers market, or in exchange for other services.

Over the past year, TEM members in Volos have grown from a few dozen to more than 500, and the movement has attracted Athens' attention. In September, parliament passed a law giving barter networks nonprofit status.

The Volos municipality also actively encourages the TEM network. Mayor Panos Skotiniotis says initiatives like these are particularly valuable at a time when the economic crisis is dismantling so many social benefits.

"This is a substitution for the welfare state, and that is why this municipality is encouraging it and wants it to grow," he says.


It looks like the vast EU superstate is coming to a premature end, and the more it tightens its grip, the more local systems will slip through its fingers. Its balloon of hot rhetoric and leftist Fantasy bursting before it is really off the ground.

At the same time, the European population is generally aging, and fast. Italy's overall fertility rate has leveled off at about 1.3, the death-spiral, lowest-low rate from which, historically, no society has ever recovered. Ever. And while all this is going on, European countries are still wrapped in the warm, fluffy, all-embracing welfare state, a system that cannot survive the demographic implosion that has already begun and is now irreversible.

Could it be possible that the principle of subsidiarity, the idea that people will look after their own and their neighbours if they have to, is really a universal aspect of human society that is inherent? That has been artificially suppressed by the growth over the last two hundred years of the overweening State? One that is now re-asserting itself as that system collapses?

The spectre of the failure of the Welfare State is something that really exercises the mind of the left. Universal abortion, the use of economic coercion to enforce sterilisation programmes on brown people in the developing world, tax penalties for families in which one parent stays home to look after the kids, the state throwing parents in prison who want to teach their children at home... none of this bothers them in the least. But the impending collapse of the Welfare State has them all in a tizzy. And rightly so, indeed. What will happen to our indigent poor? What about the older people who are retired but not rich, who live in council housing and rely on a government pension to keep them in tea and biscuits? And (here's the biggie) what about health care?

I've had a few conversations with doctors recently about the system of universal "free" medical care in Italy. In this country there is a two-tiered system, a phrase that fills Canadian leftists (ie: "Canadians") with terror. "A two-tier system?!! But that means The Rich (faugh!) will get better health care than The Poor (me)!" But in fact, the system works pretty well in this country with private care serving to siphon off a lot of the pressure on the public system.

I actually appreciate the double system quite a bit. My private GP gives routine discounts to people who are wholly without private insurance, as I am, and has given me several consultations for nothing where I've gone in to ask for his opinions and advice on medications and treatments. In the early part, when I was enormously stressed at the diagnosis, I woke up one morning with my back completely seized up. He gave me a prescription for lorazepam to control panic attacks and get my sleep back to normal. And then he offered a discount on an accupuncture treatment to fix my back. He's been a huge support and I'm more than happy to pay cash for his invaluable services. I figure if a guy spends 15 years in university learning ways to help people, he pretty much deserves to be paid.

One of the doctors on one of my little trips to the Gemelli emergency room told me (after she had assured me, again, that the symptoms I was experiencing were just the normal thing after chemo) that in her 6 hour shift in the pronto soccorso that afternoon, she would see about 20 or 25 people, almost none of whom would have anything wrong with them. She said that most people coming in there on their own steam (not the ones brought in on gurneys, obviously) came there because they knew that under the Italian system, they could see a doctor for free. She said that this kind of abuse of the system is likely to bring the whole thing down. If the people who came to the PS who had absolutely nothing wrong with them were charged just 20 Euros each per visit, it would pay back a huge portion of the costs and would serve to discourage people coming in for trivial reasons. If, she suggested, there really is something medical that needs doing (as there was in my case) then the system should treat that person either for free or with user fees that were scaled to the his income.

It sounded pretty reasonable to me. But the idea that health care and welfare are simply a universal human right that everyone should have for nothing is a big part of the problem in Europe. Everyone really does want the state to be Nanny.

To be honest, most of my treatment has been on the public dime, first with the NHS and now with the Italian national service. If I'd been paying the whole fare for surgery and chemo, I would have had a debt for the saving of my life that would have taken the rest of it to pay back. One that would have made student loans look like chicken feed.

When I was diagnosed with cancer, I was paying for a lot of doctor's appointments, tests and scans myself and it certainly wasn't cheap. A lot of them were subsidised but the user fee was still fairly substantial, particularly when you're having a lot of them. If the MRI actually costs 1500 Euros and I pay 150, I figure I'm getting a pretty good deal. What do I have a job for if not to pay for things I need? But on the double system, I've been able to take a little more control of things. When we were working out the treatment plan, the Gemelli told me that they couldn't schedule me for an MRI at the hospital. But I was able to go to a private diagnostic clinic and get the tests anyway, and quite promptly.

You guys helped a lot, too, and this is more or less my point. People want to help each other and will when help is asked and when the circumstances make it possible to help. One of the biggest failings of socialism is that it makes it difficult, if not impossible, for individuals to help each other. No one can be allowed to get in the way of the State's interference in and control of the lives of its subjects.

I don't really know how it would work without some kind of government-paid health care system. I know that in the US the problem is not a small one. Back in the days when national governments were thinking about putting in national systems, health care was not nearly so expensive. We didn't know how to treat cancer and a lot more people died of it and things like chronic heart disease, diabetes etc. My great grandfather's brother died in the 1890s after a horse stepped on his foot and he developed septicemia. It doesn't need to cost as much as it does and there is a lot of waste in health care these days, particularly when it is run by government and the money just seems to flow for nothing from some magic source up in the sky. But the fact is that our modern "miraculous" medical interventions are expensive. Chemo costs a bundle.

In the 1930s, I'm thinking that even the arch-commie (and eugenicist, by the way) Tommy Douglas didn't think that his nationalised health care system was going to eat so much of Canada's GDP as it does today. No one envisioned it.

But I think apart from the Big medical expenses like chemo and heart surgery, people really can pay for a fair bit of what they get from doctors. Maybe the collapse of our massive, top-heavy national welfare systems will force local solutions that national, centralised governments are constitutionally incapable of conceiving. I, of all people, have no desire to see only wealthy people cured of cancer, but the reality is that the system we have now, that everyone seems to think of as some kind of birthright, is going to end. And soon. It seems to me that a solution can be found only when we are absolutely up against it and are forced to find one.

And I do think that such a subsidiar-ized, ground-level solution will be found because, exceptions notwithstanding, people actually do care about each other and want to help.




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