Our country suffers from amnesia about how we used to solve problems in the not-so-distant past. It is something I hope to help correct in a new paper published by the Citizens’ Council for Health Freedom, “Safe Haven: How Mutual Aid Can Protect Families in Times of Trouble.”
This paper shows how fraternal associations once provided the vast bulk of medical benefits and life insurance in the United States and Britain. These associations were formed by working class men and women from all ethnic groups. In some cases they owned and operated their own hospitals. They also provided schools and orphanages for the children of deceased members, sickness funds for members who were unable to work, relocation assistance to help workers go where the jobs were, and moral support to families in times of trouble.
In the early 20th Century, these organizations came under attack by the Progressive Movement, which opposed self-help as interfering with the preferred dependency on and loyalty to the State. The Progressives also disparaged traditional values such as thrift, which got in the way of an economy ever more dependent on consumer spending. One leader of the Progressives is quoted as arguing in 1916 that, “Democracy is the progress of all, through all, under the leadership of the wisest.” The idea that common workmen could provide for their own needs was offensive to those who thought only an educated elite could order the affairs of society.
But today the Progressive Era is collapsing under the weight of promises it made that can never be kept. The American social welfare system currently has unfunded promises of future benefits that are double all of the wealth of the entire world. As the reality of our inability to keep these promises hits in the next few decades, the old models of neighbors helping neighbors may come back into vogue. The paper offers some ideas on what that might look like in health care.