Back many years ago, when number 1 son was born (on COBRA) we were left with something like eighteen thousand dollars to pay off, and no job. Worse, not only didn’t Dan have a job (okay, he did, but his job didn’t pay him. Yes, we should have sued, but we were young and stupid.) but I also had been sidelined by pre-eclampsia for almost a year and therefore had lost all my free lance translation clients. (Also I wasn’t in my right mind. I don’t know if it was pre-eclampsia after effects or post partum depression, which I also did have, but I had real trouble figuring out tough problems like “the clasp on this little baby garment came off, how do I get it back on?” I’ll note I packed that garment without a clasp and three years later when I unpacked it the only thing I couldn’t figure out is why that had been such a tough problem. So I probably wouldn’t have been all that good at translation.)
During this time we went to Portugal. My parents paid, they wanted to meet the baby.
While there, when I tried to explain the bind we were in (as in, why we’d probably have to move, and why we might lose our house, and why–) I always got the same thing “If you were here the birth would have been free, and employers can not just pay you because they don’t feel like it. Are you sure you don’t want to stay?”
I couldn’t explain it, and I couldn’t put it into words. This was before my own personal political awakening, and the afternoon when things suddenly made sense and linked to each other, and I had a reason for my feelings. What they said made sense. If we’d lived there life would be a lot safer and a lot softer. We’d not have debts except perhaps a house (which is what we strive for. And that I intend to pay off as we conquer the health cr*p and I can fully write. Also, when we are not paying for the boys any longer. So, two years.) What’s more, beyond the government programs, we’d have the support of an extended “tribe” of family who would take a lot of the sting off being young and poor. When we were buying sofas at thrift stores, my brother was just getting my mom’s old ones for free, when she changed furniture.
But even though we considered working there for a while, until we were back on our feet, I didn’t want my son to grow up there. And I couldn’t explain why.
Relatives and friends told me that the US system was unjust. I mean, when you’re unemployed it’s the last possible time you can afford the exorbitant premiums of cobra (From Dan’s last job. The one he was in not only didn’t pay, it also didn’t pay insurance) for practically no coverage. Wasn’t it much better that the state picked up everything, and you had no worries.
It was only years later, when the crunch passed, that I started glimpsing why it wasn’t a better thing to live in the soft state of being taken care of.
We paid off that debt in two years, you see, even though it was half of Dan’s annual income. We just lived really cheaply, mostly off rice and vegetables with a little bit of meat to flavor it. (And that went to Robert after he started eating.) And then in another year we saved enough for a down payment. And Dan got another job, and I started trying to get published. By the time #2 son came along, we weren’t rich, but we were rich enough to splurge on things like flavored coffee once in a while. Yeah, I still bought 3 turkeys on the sales after thanksgiving, when they were $10 and dismembered them and we ate them for months disguised as various things (I have it on good authority most of the veal scalopini served in restaurants is actually turkey breast) but we weren’t starving.
Now we’re a little crazy in how tough we are on ourselves to get debts paid. And I’m not holding us up as some sort of an example, because it’s rather obvious when it comes to money we’re not all there (for instance, we have no consumer credit. None. Which means there is no piece of furniture in this house that was bought new, and there very rarely are any clothes we buy new, too.)
But the thing is, after that point, is when I stopped being afraid. I’m still not absolutely sure we’re adults as adults are supposed to be, mind, but I’m fairly sure we can survive financially, even if we can’t help the boys as much as we’d like to (but that might be good too, as it prevents them getting sidelined by degrees in line fishing and underwater basket weaving.)
These days I don’t discuss our system with my relatives very much. There is very little point, because they’ll never see the advantage of a “Hard” system versus a “Soft” system. You see, they never went through the tight point and emerged into daylight on the other side.
The point is not just that if you pay for your own health care, yeah, it can suck hairy goat, but you at least get to choose what you want, and how far you’re willing to go into debt. Other than the fact that it was probably doctor’s error in giving me too much pitosin to stimulate labor (an error that could happen there too) it’s quite possible that Robert or I or both wouldn’t have lived through that. Sure, the original doctor was terrible and gave me too much pitosin, then refused to believe the contractions had stopped. But given that error, the monitoring of the baby and the emergency caesarean were very, very good. Though even they weren’t sure they could save us both, they did.
Our medical preparation is double the time and far more rigorous than in most countries with socialized medicine. But also, the doctor is ultimately a professional who can be ruined and sidelined by a law suit. Government employees in socialized systems are immune from that. The system is soft for them too. Which means it might not be worth the hassle of fighting to save both mother and baby, when the overwhelming chance is one of them will die.
But that’s not all. It’s that going through those periods of extreme need and extreme struggle molds you, and gives you strength to go through other things, and even to seek trouble, in order to reach a worthwhile goal. I don’t know if without those three years of extreme privation, I’d have stuck with it through the series of kicks in the teeth that were my early attempts at getting published (and that my career often turns into.) But the habit of clenching my teeth and facing the storm was there, and I could fall into it again.
The problem with soft systems is that they’re against everything man was molded to be by evolution. We’re built on a scavenging ape. That means we thrive on strife. If a scavenging species has too much to eat, it stops “working.” This is because as pre-human and early human, if you went out hunting while you had a half mammoth rotting in the cave, you’d have no advantage, and you’d only deplete game and make it impossible to live in that area in the future.
Knowing that you’re not going through a tight time (we never came close to starving, though we once found ourselves outside a soup kitchen, considering going in. But the people going in were so obviously worse off than us, that we went to bed hungry and then the next morning figured out some way to buy food [no, I no longer remember what] or, that is a 50 lb bag of rice and bulk frozen veggies.) ties right into that ancient brain glitch that says “plenty of mammoth, rest now.”
But the thing is man doesn’t live by food alone. There is pride and sense of purpose in a job or even an occupation like ours. Sure, life with someone else (or someone else’s taxes) looking after you is softer, and easier. But in the end, you never reach for what could be. You’re not even aware it’s possible.
I completely understand how not just our welfare but our subsidized class can resent those better off than they are. To them it is a sort of sorcery. A lot of them assume it is either because you were born better off, or because you know some secret they don’t know. Half the nonsense of micro-aggressions and institutional discrimination comes from this sense that there’s something they don’t QUITE grasp, that they can’t quite figure out; some secret to success that’s being kept away from them. And if you multiply that by millions, you understand why so many countries envy and resent and hate the US. It’s because despite our “Hard” system which is SELF-EVIDENTLY worse for people, we produce more, we invent more, we innovate more. And they can’t figure out why, so it must be some horrible trick/hegemony/colonialism/whatever the Marxists are yapping about nowadays.
Only it isn’t. It’s just relatively (compared to the rest of the world) free individuals, striving to do the best they can in any way they can, because very few of us have anything to catch us if we fall. That’s it. That’s the whole of the secret and the magic trick.
Heinlein said you shouldn’t ruin your children by making their lives too easy. The same goes double and writ large for your citizens.
Sure, we’re human, and out of charity, we will help those who have fallen and can’t get up. But that should be a temporary thing, until they find their feet again.
Too much hardness can kill, and no one is suggesting throwing widows and orphans out into a snow storm. But too much softness can smother, and keep you in a life of dependency and depression that is, in many ways, worse than death.