Thursday, March 24, 2016

Why I Talk about Money

A few days ago, I wrote a blog post about my frustrating efforts to get information in anticipation of my upcoming switch to Medicare.  In that post I talked dollars and cents regarding the costs of Medicare Part B, and specifically the way our Congress has increased the cost to new recipients, while avoiding the shitstorm they might have had if people already enrolled could see how much the premium and deductible had gone up.

My purpose in writing the blog was not just to describe how difficult it is to maneuver the complexities of Medicare, or even to expose all the unconscionable costs that seniors are now expected to pay for health insurance.  I really wanted to leave readers with the awareness that this is very likely to be the future of Obamacare, which is currently affordable and comprehensive.

Since I wrote the blog, I have had a number of conversations with people where we have actually talked in dollars and cents.  It is amazing how many intelligent and aware people do not know or understand all the various components of their health insurance, who just pay what they are billed and are thankful that they are covered.  Which is just the way Congress and the health care industry want it.

I have found, in my life, that we are more comfortable talking about our sex lives than about money.  I was told when I was in my twenties, by a far more sophisticated friend, that it is impolite to talk about money.  We don't want to brag and we sure don't want to beg.  We don't want sympathy, and we don't want scorn.

So we don't talk about our income.  If we were more comfortable sharing information about money, Lilly Ledbetter might not have been in the dark about being subject to wage discrimination.  We might all learn about bad financial deals and all those scams like car buying and loans.  We might exchange good information about tax breaks and government programs to which we are entitled.  We would be far more aware of how the republican right has worked with corporations and billionaires to manipulate our incomes and expenses.

Actually, not talking about money makes about as much sense to me as not talking about age.  It makes a big secret out of something that should be merely a sharing of information.  Really, who cares that I am 64?  It doesn't mean I'm going to die sooner, or look younger.  I believe people will judge me on far more than my age, and knowing how old I am is just a small piece of information that I provide.

Talking about costs is important to me, not because I need for people to know how much I personally live on, but because we all need to know more about how we all survive in this really bad plutocracy.  Absence of information makes us all vulnerable.  That is why corporations fight so hard to hide financial data; that is also why they are working so hard to collect data from all of us.

Here is another thing.  Since the Post and Courier published an article about serious problems with well water on Wadmalaw Island, a number of concerned people asked me how I was faring.  Fact is, I live in a relatively new development, the well is only about 25 years old, and there are people living with wells that were drilled in the 60's and 70's.  But, I add, there is a low income grant that qualifies me for a new well, so I am fortunate on that account as well.

Most people, I think, are uncomfortable learning that I qualify for a new well based on my income.  None of us really want to know that our friends are struggling financially, do we?  And then there are probably those who get their backs up just a bit over their tax dollars paying for my well.  If I end up with a new well and I am not obviously struggling, isn't that wrong?  After all, it wasn't long ago that the right-wingnuts in Congress were saying that you weren't poor if you had a refrigerator.

It's okay for tax dollars to pay for Boeing's success, and it's okay for corporate farms and pharmaceuticals to get huge subsidies from the government.  I recently heard a building contractor, when asked what he thought about Trump, reply, "If he becomes president, I'll be right there putting in a bid to build that wall."  There are acceptable ways to take government money and having a low income just isn't one of them.

I wrestled with agreeing to have that new well built.  I knew there were people far worse off than me.  But I was also told that if something happened to my current system, it would cost $6,000 to drill that new well.  So I agreed.

A businessman getting offered a good deal by the government would hardly turn it down.  But we individuals are made to feel like beggars and sponges if we accept a good deal.  Many, many people do not apply for financial assistance or food stamps because of the stigma, which our right-wing government is all too happy to magnify, by adding regulations from more frequent income checks to required proof of job-seeking to drug tests.

When the housing market collapsed not too long ago, hard working middle class people who believed in our capitalist system were thrown out on the street.  Congress fought over whether people who were unsuccessful looking for jobs should have their unemployment benefits extended.

There is an enormous myth that persists that if you work hard you will not need to turn to the government for help.  And yet those who are in government and trying to cut the benefits we deserve and depend upon are all to happy to take what the government gives them.  Our right-wing majority in Congress, and in too many of our statehouses, insist that people should work two jobs, mothers should work rather than stay home with children.  Meanwhile, members of the US House of Representatives, with full pay and benefits, are scheduled to work 111 days this year.

So let's not be polite about money.  We may think we don't know anyone who is struggling, or we may just think we don't know anyone who is struggling as much as we are.  Fact is, too many of us are in that same shaky boat, while the Koch brothers are in the yacht that is making all the waves. 

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