Kristof Admires the Military as a Model for Providing Social Services

Nicholas Kristof in the NY Times this morning writes approvingly of the US military as a model for the way society should take care of people. A few key extracts…

The United States armed forces knit together whites, blacks, Asians and Hispanics from diverse backgrounds, invests in their education and training, provides them with excellent health care and child care. And it does all this with minimal income gaps

“It’s the purest application of socialism there is,” Wesley Clark, the retired four-star general and former supreme allied commander of NATO forces in Europe, told me. And he was only partly joking.

“It’s a really fair system, and a lot of thought has been put into it, and people respond to it really well,” he added. The country can learn from that sense of mission, he said, from that emphasis on long-term strategic thinking.

This is a rare enclave of single-payer universal health care, and it continues with a veterans’ health care system that has much lower costs than the American system as a whole.

While one of America’s greatest failings is underinvestment in early childhood education (which seems to be one of the best ways to break cycles of poverty from replicating), the military manages to provide superb child care. The cost depends on family income and starts at $44 per week.

“I absolutely think it’s a model,” said Linda K. Smith, executive director of the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, which advocates for better child care in America.

This is all fine, but it’s hard to tell what Kristof is really suggesting here. Yes, the US military successfully provides a high level of ‘socialized’ services to its members. But isn’t it also relevant to mention that in return for that the military expects those members to be willing to die for their country? And that even apart from that, people in the military are required to give up an enormous amount of freedom over how they live their lives. Isn’t this precisely the reason that many people recoil from efforts to introduce more socialized models of the way services are provided to the US – the impact (whether real or perceived) on personal freedom? And before we get too carried away with enthusiasm for the way the military cares for people, it’s worth taking time to review their record in dealing with Traumatic Brain Injury in personnel returning from the battlefield.

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