A Cold War Joke and US Healthcare

December 23, 2020
Posted by Jay Livingston

There was a joke Republicans liked to tell about Soviet Russia back during the Cold War. Republicans then, unlike Republicans now, were highly critical of the Russian government and its leaders. The joke was about an American visitor getting the official tour. He is taken to a factory, where he gets an interview with a worker. The worker proudly tells him how, working at this wonder job in in this state-owned factory, he has saved enough money over the years to be able to buy a car.

“And what are you saving for now?” the American asks.

“A pair of shoes.”
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I was talking to a friend last night. “Emma took a job at UPS,” she said. Emma is her daughter-in-law. “It’s back-breaking work, and she can only do it part time. And you know why she took the job? Because at UPS, even part-time workers get health coverage.” My friend added that her son, Emma’s husband, gets medical benefits that cover only him, not the family. They looked at the available insurance plans, and to get anything decent, it would cost them $1500 a month.

“So,” said my friend, “they’re saving as much as they can so that Emma can quit the UPS job and they can buy health insurance.”

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The Soviet worker didn’t know that in other countries, people don’t have to scrimp and save to buy a pair of shoes. He didn’t realize that his unscripted answer revealed deep flaws in the Soviet system.

My friend’s son and daughter-in-law know what healthcare is like in other countries — many Americans don’t. They know that their predicament reveals deep flaws in our healthcare system. They just can’t do anything about it.

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