Making Sense

Life generally made sense to me when I was growing up. We plowed the fields, planted the seed, and harvested the grain. We planted fruit trees, trimmed them, sprayed them, and harvested the fruit. We fed the cows and chickens and we got milk and eggs and meat in return. It made sense.

There was a large factory in town that built agricultural machinery. Steel was shipped in by train from the mills and then transformed into harvesters and hay balers and mowers and tractors. Most of the town’s population worked there. I watched the long trainloads of shiny new machines shipped out to farmers all over the country. It made sense.

But some things didn’t make sense. Government quotas and price supports on crops were first on my list of nonsense, with taxes running a close second. My dad was smart enough to figure out which crops to raise for cash, but he was only allowed to raise so much. I could see that this tilted the market in favor of somebody else, though I didn’t know who. I viewed taxes as just plain theft; why should we have to pay the county for the right to own and work the farm?

I got part of the answer to that question one summer when the bee inspector came around. We kept several hives of bees in different locations so they would pollinate the fruit trees and the crops and so we could gather their honey. Any beekeeper knows when his hive is sick, so I didn’t know why the hives had to be inspected by a stranger, but every year the man showed up. Finally, one year, I noticed the county sticker on his car. I had met my first bureaucrat.

That was fifty years ago. Life stopped making sense to me shortly thereafter. Whereas I firmly believed that in order to get something useful, like money, a person had to do something useful, like work, I began to learn that a person could get something useful without doing anything useful at all. But early impressions are hard to shake.

I started working in a 200 bed hospital while I was in college in 1963. I was hired by the hospital administrator, who was also the director of nursing and the purchasing agent (she shared an office with the accountant). I did the job, I got paid. I understood that my income derived from fees charged by the hospital to patients who used the service; they either paid directly or their insurance paid for them.

When Medicare went into effect in 1965 the hospital business immediately doubled and the administrative staff quadrupled. I understood that my income still derived from fees for service, though much of it now came from Medicare taxes.

Administrative staff in hospitals never stopped growing and new hospitals went up everywhere, financed on government-backed, that is tax-backed, loans. Medicare contractors, the insurance companies, expanded their bureaucracies as well. By 1985 the system was bankrupt, so Congress changed Medicare. No more fee for service. Where was my income coming from now?

The Medicare Reform Act of 1985 eliminated payment for my profession’s services and my profession went from being a major money-maker for hospitals to being a major money-loser for hospitals. Medicare pays for nothing that I do, but Medicare still requires hospitals to employ my profession. What does that make me? A working welfare recipient?

Socialized medicine doesn’t make sense, but then neither does Social Security or the Patriot Act or American Imperialism. Nothing emanating from the District of Criminals makes sense, unless you happen to be one of them. Their tentacles spread everywhere, into every business and into our personal lives, stealing our privacy and our dignity, as well as our money. They threaten us and they spy on us, then they tell us to spy on each other. It doesn’t make sense.

I wish I’d run that bee inspector off the farm when the world still made sense to me. Maybe it would still make sense today.