Making America Healthy – Part III

December 7, 2009

In the last of a three-part series, David Coates,  discusses why we will not fully resolve our health care crisis until we choose to start living healthily again as individuals, as an economy, and as a society. Coates holds the Worrell Chair in Anglo-American Studies at Wake Forest University. The argument developed here can be followed up in his Answering Back: Liberal Responses to Conservative Arguments, New York: Continuum Books, December 2009

Healthy as a Society

By David Coates

This is not to glorify the 1950s, a time that for many Americans was scarred by misogyny, racism and hidden female despair to which there must be no return. But it is to remind ourselves that in 1970 the ratio of CEO pay to average pay in the top Fortune 500 companies was 70:1. It now normally oscillates somewhere between 250 and 300 to one. We have watched a reasonably equal society separate itself off into an excessively rich minority and a financially challenged bottom third. Poverty and ill-health go together. A more equal society is a healthier society. There are routes to health, we need to remember, which run through social change and economic justice rather than through a resetting of the health care system, vital as that resetting is.

It is surely time to call on America to wake up and smell the coffee. The last years of the Roman Empire were marked by “bread and circuses”. We don’t do bread and circuses here in the United States. We do fast food and the NFL instead. The parallels are terrifyingly close.

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