Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Bleeding Heart Capitalist

I’m an Artist. 

My income relies on my ability to

acquire raw materials, add value, and sell my products at a profit. That makes me a Capitalist. My choice of professions tells most people that I am a hopeless, bleeding-heart Liberal. My modest success in the field, however, aside from being an extremely rare phenomenon, means that I know something about business - a condition that implies that I must be a Conservative. 

Oh, and I used to be a Doctor, so I have at least a basic understanding of the healthcare industry.

There. Now that we have the labels in place, let me say a bit more about what I do: I make art. Not food, not clothing, not shelter. My products are not essential. I know my place in the system. That said, most of the goods and services exchanged in our national marketplace are not essential, either. We don't have to have big, shiny cars, or soft drinks, or cell phones or hair gel to survive. We do have to have all of these things and more, though, to maintain a thriving economy.

I also know something of my potential in this economy. Each year I sell thousands of pictures to happy customers all across the country. My customers are all knowledgeable, relatively healthy people with a certain amount of disposable income. They have to be. If they weren’t all of these things, they wouldn’t understand my drawings, much less appreciate them. Nor would they have the means to purchase my artwork. To keep my business going, therefore (and to keep myself supplied with food, and clothing, and shelter), I need a growing pool of potential customers who fit these three criteria. And because I’m Selfish, I want to do everything I can to make more people smart, and healthy, and rich.

I keep trying to imagine how much more successful I could be, (and how much better every American business could be) if everyone in the United States had a quality education, were gainfully employed, and had reliable access to healthcare. Throughout my lifetime, I’ve noticed that one political party has worked toward these goals, while the other has consistently supported legislation that serves, on a very practical level (regardless of its stated intent), to make people sicker, and stupider, and poorer.

And that’s just bad for business.

It seems pretty simple to me: Sick people can’t go to work, and they can’t succeed in school. That means they can’t make money, and they don't get smarter. They certainly can’t buy designer shoes, or Big Macs, or my artwork. They also can't keep up with their mortgages, or contribute to retirement plans. In fact, health issues are the number one reason people lose their homes, and among the top reasons workers lose their jobs. Job loss leads then to even more health issues, higher drop-out rates, and more difficulty becoming re-employed. It also contributes to higher crime rates, drug abuse, and ever greater demands on inadequate social safety nets. 

“But there aren't enough jobs!” I hear people say. “We need more jobs!”

Yes, we do. But under the present system, we’re not likely to get very many. People who have no money cannot buy the things that companies make. Fewer sales lead to decreased production, and that means more layoffs, 
not more jobs.

I wonder what would happen if everyone else in the country suddenly became as selfish as I am. I try and imagine a society where people are healthy enough to go to work, have stable homes, have time and money and motivation to finish school. A social structure where fewer people fall through the cracks, and when they do, there is someone there to catch them. Then I imagine how many more homes, and Big Macs, and pieces of art that these healthy, informed, productive people might be able to buy. And how many more people would have to go to work to make that happen.

I imagine how my business might function if I were suddenly selling tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of pictures. Frankly it couldn’t. Not now. Not without more people working for me.

Isn’t it time for us to make being well a part of the definition of being American? I’d be happy to work a little harder and pay a little more in taxes to make that happen.

But maybe I’m just being selfish.

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