A Zero-Sum World

A couple of days ago, a friend sent me an email about recent remarks made by Georgia Governor Nathan Deal. Deal wants Congress to repeal the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act of 1986. That’s the law–approved and signed by President Reagan–that requires hospitals to treat anyone in an emergency, regardless of citizenship or ability to pay.

In other words, if you are shot, giving birth, having a heart attack–whatever–and you make it to the nearest emergency room, they have to stabilize you before they determine whether you can pay and if not, send you elsewhere. They can’t just turn you away to drop the baby on the pavement or die from the heart attack.

To most sane people, this seems pretty reasonable, and by all accounts, the Act has saved many lives since it was enacted. 

I spend a lot of electronic “ink” wondering what’s wrong with people like Governor Deal. Why are they so adamantly opposed to expansion of Medicaid, increased access to health insurance, or a modest raise in the minimum wage? I could understand it if they were arguing about the best way to provide healthcare or alleviate poverty,  if they were offering alternatives, but they clearly aren’t–they are opposed to the goals themselves. And that’s what I’ve had so much trouble understanding.

However, I think I may have figured it out. These people live in a zero-sum reality.

In the zero-sum worldview, every social good exists in a fixed amount. If you get X, I lose X or its equivalent.

Thankfully, the real world doesn’t work that way. In countries with single-payer systems, for example, healthcare costs less, and everyone benefits. Studies have also confirmed that raising the minimum wage puts more money in the economy, and actually increases employment (counter-intuitive as that may seem.)

It must be exhausting to live in a zero-sum reality, where you must constantly on guard to protect your personal fiefdom. I know I need to cultivate some compassion for the denizens of that world, but it’s hard to feel sympathy for mean-spirited people.

On the other hand, maybe there’s a fixed amount of human-kindness, and they didn’t get any?


  1. The justification I’ve heard is that the ‘poor will always be with us.’ It’s a waste of money to try to help ‘these people.’ I guess they have not received ‘God’s grace.’ Ugh!

  2. People like Gov. Deal – primarily the GOP – have lost sight of the fact that we are all paying for medical care for those who cannot pay but also for hundreds of thousands who CHOOSE not to pay. This is paid for by our taxes supporting “county” hospitals, those emergency room life-saving efforts and by ever escalating medical care costs to us personally. This includes Deal and his cohort Boehner and the GOP who repeatedly try to repeal or defund the ACA and states like Indiana who refuse funds to expand Medicaid. I have known people with two vehicles, big screen TVs, added electronic games and disc players, multiple cell phones, nice homes, take out or fast food habits, etc., who hit an emergency room for minor illnesses or injuries because they say they don’t have enough money to have health care or a family physician. We are required to have vehicle insurance to register each year and homeowner insurance is required before closing on purchasing our homes; why is it against their religious beliefs to provide our families with health care insurance? And the basis for many anti-ACA and expanded Medicaid rants include their religious, Bible thumping reasoning. Unspoken in all of this is their lack of humanity and valuing human lives. They also are leaning toward private prison supervision and providing criminals with free medical, dental and visual care. Logic and common sense are long gone from too many elected officials who are living on the “dole” of our tax dollars.

  3. Almost everything goes back to the makers and the takers argument we have literally everyday. With a little racism sprinkled in here or there. “You don’t pay as much as I do in taxes, blah blah blah.” Has it always been like this, I mean I am relatively young so I can’t really relate to a time when Republican positions were sane, generally speaking. Reagan did sign it into law, so maybe there was a bygone era. Funny too, how some fight to save a fetus who lives inside of someone else while they would gladly let someone die post-birth. “I get to claim my religious convictions only when I want to!” The hypocrisy continues, and sadly, I see no end in sight…

  4. The Medicare for all option, with Health, Dental, Vision, and Prescription Drugs would have eliminated all these claw back attempts by the Republicans at sabotage. The issue as you mention is the mean-spirited GOP if you cannot afford it too bad. Scrooge is their mentor.

  5. I think it all goes back to the teachings of Jesus that the poor and helpless were to be shunned so that big Roman olive oil companies could get bigger tax subsidies. Oh, and guns.

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