Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

Happy Interdependence Day: Ensuring life, liberty for all is the basis of our government

From the Everett Herald:

John Burbank, Executive Director

This past month I flew back to Vermont, where my dad lives. He is 91 years old now, and just broke his hip. So he has a long recovery in front of him, and I was there to help him along and bolster his spirits when he needed some encouragement.

My dad is in a rehabilitation center, where he is learning to “hop” on a walker, and not put any weight on the bad leg. He gets tired, but he perseveres, and he is making progress. He maintains an enthusiasm and interest in life, athletics, politics, and his family and friends. I got him a Kindle, but I am not sure he has figured that out yet!

Without the great professional staff at his rehabilitation center, the physical therapists, the nursing assistants who make sure he is comfortable, and the nurses who look after him, my Dad would not be making progress every day. Without the EMTs who got him to the hospital, the specialist who replaced his hip, and the other doctors who supervise his care and progress, my Dad would not be alive now. Without Medicare, the medical bills would have started to pile up.

Let’s put this another way: My Dad wouldn’t have had much of a chance if we actually took U.S. Senate candidate Clint Didier’s advice: “We’ve got to get rid of this protecting the weak.”

My father-in-law is also one of those weak people we are protecting. His dementia is getting worse. He walks around, enjoys other people’s company, and watches the world as his window onto it shrinks down. He gets careful attention and care at his assisted living place and good health care for his various ailments. Medicare covers almost all his medical costs.

My father-in-law served in the Pacific during World War II. He was a naval officer at Iwo Jima. His hearing has been shot ever since. He ended up with his military pension and that’s about it. Should we neglect my father-in-law because he didn’t save much money? Too bad for him, but he is on his own! Perhaps he can appreciate the “freedom” that entails.

This is not just about old people. A colleague of mine just lost her husband. She has infant twins. As a survivor, she and her twins are entitled to Social Security benefits. If she was on her own, without Social Security, she would be in dire economic straits. Her emotional loss and devastation of the past year would be compounded with the fear of simply not being able to make ends meet.

So I have our government to thank for the well-being of my father and father-in-law, and the economic security of my colleague and her babies. Look around, and you realize that our ability to live and prosper, or make do, is only because we depend on each other. As kids, we are utterly dependent on our parents, our teachers, our friends, relatives, and neighbors, our local fire station and police, and our government.

As adults, our relationship with government morphs into a crucial interdependency. Our government makes society civil, establishing systems of law and order and justice which become the basis for commerce, employment, and advancement. We in turn pay taxes to enable government to insure the fundamentals of democracy, including “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Our taxes enable government to pay for Medicare and Social Security for our parents, and unemployment compensation and community college worker re-training for our neighbors who have lost their jobs in this great recession. We are able to prosper, or at least persevere, thanks in large part to government. And as adults, we are also the beneficiaries of the investments, inventions, infrastructure, and leaps in productivity brought to us by our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents.

As old people, our health and well-being and quality of life depend even more on the investments of others, especially the systems of finance and health care that are possible only through our government. So when we talk about government, we are talking about our lives, our well-being, the comfort of our parents and the progress of our children. My Dad is not on his own, not now, never has been, and never will be, to the last of his days. And that is true for all of us, no matter how much we vilify the government that we ourselves elect!

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