Public policy is an important part of a nation’s overall wellbeing. A civilized society is judged by the quality of its public policies. Historically, the Western countries have come across better in comparison to the Non-Western countries, because they could produce more meaningful and useful public policies for their citizens.
Since the late 19th century, the Western countries, particularly, the North European countries have introduced public polices in relation to retirement benefits for old age, and health benefits for the common citizens. Germany was at the forefront in providing retirement and health care benefits in 1880s.
Most of the Anglo-Saxon countries introduced retirement and some kind of universal health care for their citizens by the end of 19th and beginning of the 20th century.
The United States introduced Social Security retirement in 1930s along with the private retirement system side by side. Regarding the health care, the U.S. has covered 55% of the population in some form or other mostly by Medicaid and Medicare– introduced in 1960s.
Out of the remaining 45 percent, almost 35 percent are covered by private health insurance funded by the employer and the employee. The remaining 10 percent (almost 40 million) are uncovered. The Affordable Health Care Act of 2010 (popularly known as Obamacare) is expected to cover the remaining 10%, which will be funded by tax revenue from high income individuals, fees from health related business, savings from improving the existing health care management, and contributions from the beneficiaries on sliding scale.
Public policy of a country needs to be understood in the context of that society’s socio-economic and political history. Currently, pubic policies in the U.S. are struggling in a deep ideological battle among the proponents of what government ought to do vs. what ought not to do. The people in the United States are evenly divided about role of government: half of them want government to do more and the other half think government should do less. As a result we have public polices which reflect the desire of a divided society.
The political debate around the current sequestration issue also reflect the duality, and sometimes the contradictory nature of our public policy formation process. Conservatives want less government involvement and the Liberals want more government involvement.
We need to keep in mind in the U.S., the elite and the special interest groups have a disproportionate influence in determining the actual public policy. If the average citizens are not pro-active in influencing public policies, we may see them marginalized in policy debates. Media also has disproportionate influences in public policy debate, in a very odd way.
Of course, the elite and the interest groups make sure their message prevail over common people’s wishes. For a balanced public policy, where average person’s need is taken care of, the average person has to be in the forefront of the public policy debates. The young men and women – especially in the college campuses have a moral responsibility to be proactive for fair and balanced public policy.
We live in a time, when government has to take proactive role in supporting the average citizen as free market is not able to solve most of the complex problems that our society is facing. Every industrial nation has universal health care in some form or other, and they spend half of what we spend for heath care, and we still have a messy health care system.
We are spending 20 percent of our GDP for health related expenses, and we have a defense budget which spends half of the whole world’s defense related expenditure. It is very worrisome that we have made some strategic public policy mistakes in the past and may continue to do the same in future. Our efficiency- equity and liberty-security trade off needs to be balanced – if we want to maintain a positive impact in the world the way we have done since the World War II.
Nasir Ahmed is a professor of Public Administration at Grambling State.