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Russia and America: Turning the World Upside Down

A Commentary By Howard Rich

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

A little over a year ago, a columnist for the newspaper that once served as the official communications organ of the Central Committee of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) had some choice words for what remains of America’s free market economy.

“Like the breaking of a great dam, the American descent into Marxism is happening with breathtaking speed,” the columnist wrote. “The final collapse has come with the election of Barack Obama.”

His prediction for the future?

“The proud American will go down into his slavery without a fight, beating his chest and proclaiming to the world how free he really is,” he continued. “The world will only snicker.”

As difficult as it may be to believe, that column appeared last April in Pravda – and a year later its chilling premonition has taken another step towards reality with the passage of Obama’s socialized medicine plan. Meanwhile in the former Soviet Union, things are moving in the opposite direction as health care reforms are currently being proposed with the aim of undoing decades of communist micromanagement.

Has someone turned the world upside down? Is a failed former socialist state really adopting limited free market reforms? And even less fathomable: Is a nation that was conceived in liberty – one that rode the free market to unprecedented wealth creation and an unrivaled standard of living – now adopting the failed ideology of the very nation it vanquished in a global struggle for freedom?

Amazingly, the answer to both questions is “yes.”

According to the Moscow Times , the Russian Duma is currently considering a health care reform bill that “adopts a laissez-faire approach instead of a micromanagement one.” Legislation is also being debated that would force certain hospitals to either start turning a profit or be shut down.

“While Washington plans to pump unprecedented sums into what critics call a government takeover of health care, Moscow is moving in the opposite direction by backing legislation that could force hospitals and other public institutions to go commercial or close,” the Times report notes.

It should be noted at this point that the Russian system is by no means wildly embracing capitalism. It is still doling out the vast majority of its health care funding from public sector sources, and the proposed funding reforms that are currently before the Duma would not eliminate or even substantially reduce government subsidies. They would simply provide for maximum budgetary flexibility amongst the hospitals that receive these subsidies while doing away with the nonsensical practice of confiscating “leftover” funds at the end of each year – which only guaranteed unnecessary spending.

According to the latest statistics from the World Health Organization, government in Russia pays for 63.2 percent of health care costs compared to a 45.8 percent share in America. These numbers were “pre-Obamacare,” however. Clearly they will be moving towards an intersection as American plunges deeper into socialized medicine thanks to trillions of dollars in new entitlements, funded in part by socialist-style “individual mandates.”

When will our leaders come to their senses?

Obviously a repeal of Obamacare would represent a tremendously positive first step in that process, but let’s not forget the fact that the American health care system was already overburdened with government’s entitlement excess prior to Obama’s latest big government power grab – and many Republicans who are now crying foul have been part of the problem. In fact, rather than moving our country in the direction of free market solutions, George W. Bush and a Republican-controlled Congress deepened the entitlement abyss in 2003 by adding a $550 billion prescription drug benefit.

Each new government promise comes with a price tag – one that is measured not only in dollars and cents, but by the gradual erosion of our liberties and our free market economy. That’s a lesson our country seems to have forgotten, but one that is picking up momentum in places that used to rail against freedom and free markets.

Howard Rich is Chairman of Americans for Limited Government .

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Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports.

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