Letter to the President:
Restore Justice and Equity to the Land
by John Brand, D.Min., J.D.
March 10, 2003
Dear Mr. President,
Almost 100 years ago, on January 22, 1905, thousands of Russian peasants and workers proceeded in a peaceful march on the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. They carried icons of Saints and religious banners. Their purpose was to present the Czar, "our little father," with a petition requesting relief from some of the bureaucratic burdens imposed upon them by the incompetence, corruption, and oppression of Russian officialdom. There was no sign of any civil disturbance, no sign of rioting, and no sign of anything but a peaceful demonstration by the "children" of their Czar.
Before the petition could be presented, Cossacks fired into the crowd killing nearly a thousand and wounding about five thousand. In June of that year, the seamen on the battleship Potemkin mutinied and killed their officers. The stage was set for the eventual October Revolution that installed a Communist regime with all of the ensuing terrors that are now familiar history.
I know, Mr. President, that at this moment you are occupied with serious affairs of the state. Your undivided attention is needed in this critical moment of the world's history. Yet, Mr. President, there are also other pressing problems begging for your understanding and concern. What does it benefit if you succeed in your present international venture but find a country beset with serious problems undermining the spirit, the morale, and the élan vital of your people?
So, your "children" come to you with petition in hand requesting relief from burdens robbing them of the opportunity for the "pursuit of happiness." Surely, at the top of the list must be the request for a more orderly, a more dependent, and a more secure delivery of healthcare. How, indeed, does it profit anyone to live without having health? At this moment in time, over 40,000,000 of our citizens, your subjects, find themselves without medical insurance. You surely have been made aware that the list is growing daily.
We respectfully submit to you the fact that under Managed Health Care, the delivery of timely and adequate medical services has suffered severely. We know that health care is expensive. But how can costs be contained while delivering competent services when probably more health dollars than we realize are siphoned off to pay private investors in the industry, to compensate executives with six-figure incomes, and to drown the system in needless iterative paperwork? It seems that each insurance company has its own regulations, required documents, and methods of payment for services rendered and standards of eligibility. Such duplication is not only expensive but also inefficient.
Certainly, most of your petitioners believe in the free enterprise system. Yet a serious problem exists that, unless addressed, can lead to unforeseen difficulties and agonizing consequences for individuals in need of health care. In setting the agenda for capitalism, Adam Smith pointed directly to the self-interest of capitalists as the source that would fuel the engines of commerce. In order to turn that egocentric dynamic into the common good, Smith relied on an "unseen hand" that would manage virulent selfishness and produce the most good for most people. In the almost three centuries since Smith's work, that unseen hand has been conspicuously absent in the economic affairs of our nation as well as that of the rest of the Western world. It is much more likely that an observation by William Penn in one of his essays contains the germinal truth that must be our concern. Penn wrote, "Not that men know not what is right, their excesses, and wherein they are to blame, by no means; nothing is plainer to them: but so deprived is human nature that, without compulsion some way or another, too many would not readily be brought to do what they know is right and fit." In other words, the self-interest of man must somehow be kept in checks and balances. One does Penn no harm when assuming that he implied that such check and balance must come from another conscious, human source. No unseen hand is at work here.
You, Mr. President, are quite familiar with the use of laws, executive orders, and administrative directives to keep the wheels of commerce and industry running. You know from your own experiences that it is the hand of man that turns the wheels of industry and commerce. It was sheer human ingenuity enabling Enron to practice innovative accounting methods to show favorable P & L statements. There was no unseen hand that guided Enron's affairs. You are also familiar with the practice of writing legislation allowing certain businesses to benefit from tax breaks, deductions for R & R, and sundry other such practices. No unseen hands are at work here to increase productivity and profitability that benefits the general welfare. It is the combined effort of both houses of Congress writing such legislation favoring business and industry. Wherever we look, we see the hands of men at work effecting profits.
Now, Mr. President, the citizens of this great Republic implore you to use your hands to establish a health care system that meets the need of all the people. Past experience dictates that this significant need not be placed into the hands of those who seek to make a profit from the misfortune of ill health that befalls our frail human bodies.
We most humbly petition you to proceed with might and main to seek very strict punishment for those who bilk the Medicare system. We all know of providers who have submitted fraudulent bills to Medicare. We all know of physicians who have performed needless operations. These are crimes against society -- crimes against all of us. We entreat you to use your powerful hands to enact legislation to place such miscreants behind bars for a minimum of twenty years. Our society can ill afford to be robbed by such unscrupulous personages.
There are so many other areas where the little people cannot depend on unseen hands to bring justice and equity into their lives. The Mayflower Compact contains these words embraced by the members of the Company, "we … do enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and office … as shall the thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony…" The hands of our forebearers relied not upon some unseen spirit but upon their own devices to bring about laws that were just and would meet the general good of all the people of the colony.
Mr. President, at the present moment, the minimum hourly wage has been stuck at $5.15 per hour for several years. This amounts to an annual gross wage of $10,712. Social Security taxes reduce that amount to about $9,782. When we consider state sales taxes, gasoline taxes, and various other levies, a person on minimum wages might have about $8,000 of disposable income. That amounts to about $667 per month. Even if both husband and wife are working, their combined earnings to cover rent, food, clothing, and transportation and any other expenses are less than $1,340 per month.
Mr. President, it does not take an Einstein to reach the conclusion that a family depending on minimum wages has a more than difficult time to make ends meet. Can we rely upon your good hand to bring such inequity to an end? Oh, we know that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and various corporate interest groups will raise a hue and cry when you use your bully pulpit to speak up for the little man. When they do, you can certainly still their selfish voices by inviting them to support their families on the income I have described above.
I would like to conclude by inviting you to extend your hand to consider one more area where the unseen hand has been miraculously absent -- even in the plain view of a most inequitable situation. In order to provide even the most basic essentials of life, many individuals rely upon the revolving credit of their bank credit cards. It has been brought to my attention that interest rates of 13 to 19 percent are not unusual on those transactions. This amount is equal to about three times what banks are charged for loans they make from the Federal Reserve Bank. Does it not appear to you, Mr. President, that such rates charged by banks are usurious? Myriads of families are kept in financial servitude because no hand is raised to protect the rank and file from such a practice. You encourage the people to spend money so the economy will again flourish. But how can the millions spend money when their bankers get a substantial percentage of the combined paychecks of husbands and wives?
You have proven yourself to be forceful President since 9/11. Your hand is seen everywhere in the area of international relations. You are not relying on any unseen hand to determine the fate of our nation.
Can you understand why millions are looking to you and your powerful hand to bring justice and equity to the masses who have no political influence, no legislative clout, and no financial means whereby they might achieve a measure of authority in the governance of the land of the free and the home of the brave?
Your hand must become the unseen hand in order to restore justice and equity in the land. Your hand must provide the leadership so that the unalienable right of the pursuit of happiness becomes reality for the little people.
John H. Brand
John Brand is a Purple Heart, Combat Infantry veteran of World War II. He received his Juris Doctor degree at Northwestern University and a Master of Theology and a Doctor of Ministry at Southern Methodist University. He served as a Methodist minister for 19 years, was Vice President, Birkman & Associates, Industrial Psychologists, and concluded his career as Director, Organizational and Human Resources, Warren-King Enterprises, an independent oil and gas company. He is the author of Shaking the Foundations: Coming of Age in the Postmodern Era (1st Books Library, 2001). This article first appeared in YellowTimes.org. Email: jbrand@YellowTimes.org