Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Americanization of Australia

I am an Australian. I live in the USA. This is the eighth country I have lived in, and I am horrified.

I am horrified that schools ask for donations – not as a matter of choice. Your donation will determine the treatment your children will get. It is not their talent and hard work, but your donation that will decide how their science project will be presented, or what role they will be playing in school dramas. My daughter is a talented artist, so I donate a lot.

I am horrified that health institutions run like businesses, where patients are referred to as clients, and, like any other enterprise, the purpose is to increase repeated business and upsale unnecessary survives, not healing the sick. When some kids in our neighborhood were admitted to a hospital after an accident, the three with comprehensive insurance, despite their minor injuries, underwent a series of unnecessary, expensive test. The one without, had to wait for eleven hours before seen by a doctor. She was released ten minutes later. The cost of comprehensive insurance (equivalent to the Australian’s) is over $20,000 a year, like buying a new family car every year.

But patients are not the only clients of the system. In a country that prisons are for profit, prisoners are clients, too. As a result, the USA has the highest incarceration rate in the world: 754 prisoners for every 100,000 people. For comparison, the number in Russia is 470, in China 172, and in Australia 143. Long sentences are given for petty crimes, while those who can afford expensive lawyers often walk free, or with minor punishment. But if you are poor black or Hispanic, incarceration might be you better choice: no police officer would be brought to custody for shooting you, even if you were innocent.

I am also horrified by the amount of time, money, and energy I spend on replacing products made to fail. Buying the same brand in Australia or Europe, may it be a refrigerator, a toaster, or a car, the product in the USA will be inferior, will need more maintenance, and will fail sooner. I have lived in eight countries and numerous houses, and never before the USA had so many service people strolled through my house, maintaining and fixing it on a regular basis. But regulation about quality, is defined by politicians paid by the industry, what’s good for the average people is of little consideration.

The image most Australians have about America is that of the 1980. This America exists no longer. A research by the political scientists Martin Gilens, of Princeton, and Benjamin Page, of Northwestern found that the preferences of rich people and organizations representing business interests had a much bigger impact on subsequent policy decisions than the views of middle-income and poor Americans. They suggested that “majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts.” In other words, the USA is no longer a democracy, but rather an oligarchy. And it horrifies me that Australia, instead of learning from others’ mistakes, is following the American path.
The marriage of money and politics in Australia, which turned lax and opaque during the Howard’s government, will, in the long run, lead to the loss of fairness, and the blurring of right and wrong. What we call corruption today, in the future, following the USA model, will become business as usual. It risks everything we treasure about Australia: caring for the weak, the environment. We must do everything to keep money out of politics. Because beyond a certain point, there is no way back.

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