I am staring at the “Primary Care Plus Enrollment Form” sitting on my desk. This form came in the mail after we applied for health insurance through Vermont’s Health Care Exchange.
Because it was determined that our income is quite low relative to others in Vermont, we will receive a subsidy from the State to assist us in purchasing health insurance. I am very grateful for this assistance. Though Susan and I work hard, we work hard at art and music, and the value assigned to art and music, while it varies tremendously throughout society, is definitely on the low side relative to other forms of work.
Some, like the late opera singer Beverly Sills, assign it high value: “Art is the signature of civilizations.” Others, like the IRS and the State of Vermont, assess its value in the marketplace of art sales and compensation for services rendered, and seem to agree that under the Affordable Healthcare Act, we are eligible to receive a distribution of other people’s money (through collected taxes) to support our purchase of health insurance.
Some will cry, “This is socialism!” and indeed it is, though applied in a limited way within a strongly capitalistic system. Does it seem fair to you? What is, or should be, the just distribution of taxpayer resources across a diversity of people in a community? Are low wage earners an unmitigated drag on a community and therefore undeserving of full access to healthcare, or is it in the state’s interest to “manage access” so that the healthcare system is financially equipped to deliver healthcare in a financially predictable, sustainable way to all?
If an individual qualifies for financial support under the law as it is currently written, can that financial need be consistent with the same individual claiming that he has “enough” money? (That was my claim yesterday.) Where is the logic – where is the justice – in that statement?
John MacMurray didn’t have the opportunity to write about healthcare, but on the subject of justice MacMurray had lots to say. Law is a means and not an end, MacMurray claimed, and therefore must be “tuned” to the exigencies of society so that there is a “minimum of interference with the practical freedom of the individual.” The law is “the means to justice in the indirect relations of the members of an association of persons co-operating for the production and distribution of the means of personal life.” Further, “justice is an aspect of morality; it is a restriction which I impose on my own power for the sake of others.”
But when one person is restricted in the exercise of their “power” by society, how should the loss of that power be compensated? If someone is in need and society provides, what is the obligation to society of the person who received support? Doesn’t the receiving individual owe society something equivalent to the support received?
Art and music are strange commodities. A painting can sell for a lot or a little depending on where, and to whom, it is sold. And what about the value of an unsold painting? Is it nothing? For every painting that sells, there are legions that do not sell.
What about a concert that someone doesn’t enjoy? There are myriad reasons why the experience of attending a concert may fail to satisfy an individual listener. While some reasons may be deemed specious by some people, any reason is legitimate in the sense that the enjoyment value of a concert experience is determined by the individual, and that value could, in fact, be less than zero. Can we – should we – assign any value at all to what might be called “artistic failure?”
That is a nasty question, one that artists and musicians ask themselves every day.
Esther McIntosh, author of John MacMurray’s Religious Philosophy, said that for MacMurray “equality of value cannot occur where worth is measured by utility. For individuals to be valued equally, their natural differences must be recognized and accepted, regardless of synthetic differences.”
I do not presume to provide answers to these questions of justice, equality, and the value of the arts in a way that is convincing or satisfying. But I know that I am grateful for the support from the State of Vermont so that Susan and I can purchase health insurance. I am grateful to the communities in which we live and work because our artistic efforts are appreciated and supported. And I am deeply grateful that we have “money enough” for food, shelter, family and friends.