The Nation: Pay Off the Thugs

“As an illustration, consider the following hypothetical.

“You’re a social worker or a parish priest in a poor urban neighborhood that lives under the malignant, if stable, stewardship of an organized-crime protection racket. The small business owners all have to pay a protection fee, which most of them can afford, but a significant portion of bodegas and nail salons operating on razor-thin profit margins struggle to come up with the money. When they fall short (which is often) they are subjected to beatings, harassment, vandalism and other petty cruelties. “Now, it turns out that you can raise enough money through your organization so that you can reliably cover the protection fees for the struggling shop owners operating on the margins. Whenever they can’t come up with enough money, you can make up the difference. The improvement to residents’ lives would be massive: no longer forced to live in fear, they would be allowed to transact their business and go about their lives free from the constant, degrading fear of physical violence. But by taking this action you would also be channeling revenue into the pockets of the protection racket and, perhaps more insidious, further entrenching its power by conceding its central premise: that all local businesses must pay up in order to survive.

“This is, in rough allegorical fashion, the dilemma at the heart of the recent intra-left battle over the Senate version of the healthcare bill. Those arguing that the bill will be a massive step forward in reducing the misery of the uninsured are for the most part right. And those arguing that the Senate version of the bill is a grotesque sellout to Big Pharma and, to a lesser extent, Big Insurance, are more or less correct as well. When the White House used its muscle to kill a bipartisan amendment that would have allowed reimportation of drugs, it was as if our fictional social worker or priest took to shaking down shopkeepers to stay in the good graces of the local thugs. For what it’s worth, I’m generally in the pay-off-the-thugs camp,”

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