Archive for April 13th, 2011

Living And Dying On Your Knees

I was asked on Facebook to translate this piece by Luis García Montero from his blog La realidad y el deseo (‘Reality and Desire’). So here it is, sorry it’s a bit rushed.

Living And Dying On Your Knees

In his book The Memory Chalet, written while a lateral sclerosis paralysed his body until it brought him unto death, the historian Tony Judt makes a lapidary observation: “We know perfectly well that unlimited faith in deregulated markets kills” [my translation of LGM -HG].

Judt, who for many years denounced the dictatorships of really existing socialism, is at strenuous pains to explain that neoliberalism, that modern devourer of social feelings [in the original, ‘sentimientos sociales’ – I think the reference is to Mill – HG], has become a totalitarian straitjacket. According to Judt, the best way of measuring how much an ideology enslaves a people is by the collective incapacity to imagine alternatives. A feeling of impotence defines well the state in which many citizens, caught up in an alarming degradation of democratic reality, in an economy ever more unjust and a sovereignty ever more limited, bow to the official diktats of the bosses of financial institutions. Everything boils down to one diagnosis: you people must earn less and lose rights so that the speculators reap better profits. And whoever wants to dissent from this logic appears cast into the abyss.

Neoliberalism kills. I am reminded of Tony Judt when I read a study published by David Stuckler in the British Medical Journal, “Budget crises, health, and social welfare programmes“, in which he analyses the relation between government cuts and the rise in mortality rates. We make savings at the price of speeding up our journey to the grave. Deaths from tuberculosis will go up 4.3%, and cardiovascular deaths up 1.2%. It is against this vital horizon that the civilised right-wing which governs in Catalonia has announced it will cut its health spending by 10%, joining the club of public health dismantlers, led by the regions of Madrid and Valencia. According to surveys, citizens are going to use their vote to sharpen that ideological trend towards health privatization. We are living, and we will die, on our knees [the obvious reference here is to Dolores Ibárruri, who was citing Emilano Zapata -HG].

The political direction seems clear. It is a matter of driving the middle classes out of the public health system. Whoever can pay ought to pay for his own health. Public services will attend to only the poorest. And of course, as deputy Gaspar Llamazares denounces frequently, medical care for poor people is poor medical care – the provision of charity services instead of a universal right. Citizens will be held to be irresponsible should they insist on maintaining their rights. They will bear all the blame for the calamities from demanding unsustainable spending. Against this the best neoliberal prescription involves cutting back on public spending and faith in private initiative.

Spending cuts? Although the totalitarian ideology of neoliberalism prevents us from imagining alternatives, actual facts are stubborn. The new hospital in Asturias, launched with direct public investment, has cost €350 million. The hospital in Majadahonda, with fewer beds, thanks to the invaluable participation of private initiative, is costing us €1250 million. A report from the UGT (those bothersome unions!) shows that a hospital bed, as part of a public private partnership, costs 30% more than in the public system. Do we need to make savings? Check out this piece of data analysed by CCOO. The eight hospitals in Madrid created through Private Finance Initiatives will cost €5000 million. Direct public investment would have lowered the cost to €700 million. Now that the property bubble has burst, we can figure out already where the speculation that so drives Esperanza Aguirre‘s Madrid insiders has been hidden. And for the supporters of co-payment as the bona fide way of saving, another datum: Spanish pharmaceutical spending, an area where such good counsel has been adopted, is double the cost of the European average.

The totalitarianism of neoliberal ideology has to be very strong indeed to make us line up to swallow these millstones. Tony Judt died of paralysis. So will we, unless we imagine an alternative.


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