the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

On Health Care and Supermarkets

I received a compliment from a nice reader, saying that I encouraged debate on “political” issues.  She felt that her opinions were too hardcore and only attracted readers who agreed with her.  I told her that she nees to be who she is, because her style is just as important, maybe MORE important in getting things done in the REAL world.  In many way, my “encouraging debate” is a positive spin on “being wishy-washy.”  I tend to always look at the others side, which would make me a bad President, football coach, or union leader.

Leaders need “vision,” something as hard and rugged as the concrete of a New York City sidewalk, in order to inspire his follwers.  Leaders cannot be like Charlie Brown, debating whether or not to trust Lucy and kick the football.

This month’s big debate is over health care.  It is shameful that so many Americans live without health insurance.  Something needs to be done NOW.

The main argument against change is a fear of “socialized medicine.”  You hear the same questions being asked over and over again.  “How can we trust the government with managing our health care?  They screw everything up!  Have you ever gone to the DMV?”

Rebuttal:  There are examples of socialized medicine working successfully around the world.

Wishy-washy:  But every truth has two sides.

There is some truth that the government tends to make a mess of things.  Obama health-care supporters shouldn’t become so ideological that we brush this under the rug.  There has been a lot of discussion about “socialism” from both sides, and I sometimes wonder if people really know what they are talking about online.  No one wants to turn the United States into the Soviet Union.  On the other hand, I read someone on Twitter trying to persuade others to push for socialized medicine by asking, “What’s so wrong with socialism or Marxism anyway?!”

I can only assume that this passionate leftist is a sophomore at Columbia University, because it is something after a year of Contemporary Civilization classes.  I’m now an old fart who has sadly accepted the uncomfortable fact that most of us do when we leave the university and try to make a living — most people are lazy, selfish jerks who won’t do anything if there is no competition. Free enterprise is necessary.  And yes, so is some “socialism” to help those who need it.  We’ve all seen the good and the evil of both systems.  And yes, I include going to the DMV as one of the evils.


If you look outside from my mother’s dining room window, you see a supermarket right downstairs.  We are over the parking lot.  When I was growing up, this store was Waldbaum’s.  It was a decent store.  I remember every can of the store’s own brand of vegetables had a photo of “Julia Waldbaum” plastered on the label, smiling at you.

Sometime in the 1980’s our neighborhood declined.  I have written in the past about how an entire city block went out of business.  The local bakery, an aromatic piece of heaven, where my grandfather would buy onion rolls and jelly donuts, has been shuttered and graffitied for over fifteen years!


Despite the closing of these stores, there are three supermarkets within seven blocks of each other.  It is a crowded neighborhood, and people still need to eat.  As more immigrant families moved into the neighborhood, the three supermarkets seemed to care less about the quality and upkeep.  The first time Sophia came to visit, she thought that I lived in the “slums.”  Waldbaum’s changed into a Pathmark, and this supermarket was super sucky.  The vegetables were always rotting, and the cashiers were high school kids who really didn’t give a shit.  The management was so cheap that during day hours, there would be three counters open, and the lines would reach up to twenty people each, snaking into the cereal aisle, and blocking those who wanted to pass.  My mother still shopped at this supermarket, mostly because it was the closest, and the other two markets in the neighborhood were even worse.

Two months ago, this Pathmark closed and an Associated Supermaket took over the spot.  The owners spruced the place up, and even put in a wood floor.  The store was Korean-owned, and everyone, including the checkers are Korean, and the store runs as efficiently as a new Hyundai.  The vegetables are beautiful, and because fish is an essential part of the Asian diet, the fish department has doubled.  They have sushi, gyozas, and soba noodles!  You do not understand how revolutionary that is for this neighborhood!



This new supermarket has had a domino effect throughout the neighborhood.  Everyone went there, despite the higher prices.  They had ten checkout lanes!  Organic foods!  A real deli!  And the help actually HELPED YOU!

Two weeks later, one of the other supermarkets in the area went out of business.  A new owner bought it and promised to make it better than ever.  Today, I walked by the third supermarket in the neighborhood.  They are closing until November for a complete renovations.


My socialist aunt would hate to hear me say this, but “F**k Yeah, this is Pure Capitalism at Its Best!”  Without the competition, the neighborhood had three shitty, uncaring supermarkets.  Once, ONE stepped up the game, the others had to change for the better or die.  And that is good.

I’m still for health care reform, by the way.  You don’t treat people’s health like a supermarket.


  1. Otir

    I have never understood how one of the wealthiest country in the world had not started to consider that health was a human right and not a product that needed to be insured like a piece of renewable material, that gets discounts or best practices depending on the make.

    In the current frame of mind, a capitalism like this is just sawing the branch on which it is sitting, because wealth instead of being renewing itself by virtue of circulating among everyone, is just being exhausted by greed and calculation.

    Oh. I forgot, I was raised in a country where social benefits are normal.

  2. Juli Ryan

    Your posting time is working out just perfectly for me. It’s dinner time in New Zealand, and time for bed in NYC.

    So we have healthcare for everyone in NZ. Even the freeloaders. Because Kiwis are Marxists. And we believe in basic, human rights. But if you like frills, you also can buy private insurance.

    If a tiny, inconsequential country like NZ can provide healthcare for everyone, surely the world’s wealthiest country can do it too.

    I like your supermarket analogy. Giving everyone access to healthcare will force competition between insurers. Which actually will help drive costs down. Giving everyone access to healthcare will end up costing everyone less.

  3. Chris Hoke

    Label me an old-school patriot if you must, but the Declaration of Independence covers this under the “life” part of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. In the parlance of our medium: healthcare system thus far = epic fail.

    The worst thing we can do is to allow things to continue the way they have when it is in our power to do something better.

  4. Middle-Aged-Woman

    I find myself wondering how many of those objecting to government-run health insurance will be certain to sign up for Medi-Care the day they turn 65. And how many of those objectors are already receiving those benefits.

  5. teahouseblossom

    Second the previous commenter. How many of these critics are happily enjoying the benefits of Medicare? Hello, government run health insurance! Gasp!

    And Pathmark sucks. It’s the worst supermarket ever.

    And hooray for Asian efficiency!!

  6. Loukia

    That grocery store with the hardwood floors looks awesome! I’d probably be a happy shopper in there. Balducci’s is another one of my favourite grocery stores to shop at when I’m in the USA… but wait, let’s get back to health care – I wrote a post about this a while back and basically my view is this – change is necessary, especially in the USA, where so many are left without any health care at all. Just the idea that one child has to suffer – that one child cannot get the medical help they absolutely deserve makes my heart hurt. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be a mom living somewhere in the USA with a very sick child who cannot be treated. Not fair, not right. Completely unacceptable. Bring on the change.
    Here in Canada, we have ‘free’ healthcare for everyone. It’s not a perfect system, but from my experience – and there has been a lot of experience unfortunantly when my child was extremely sick and needed to be hospitalized 3 times – I was more than grateful and more than thankful for the wonderful system and great doctors we have.
    I’m also in support of a two-tiered system. I wouldn’t mind paying for a service if I could get treated/looked after quicker. I think this would only help reduce the wait times in the public hospitals as well.
    Good post, Neil!

  7. SciFi Dad

    The bulk of people I have read/heard against the reformed health care are those who are in more affluent situations than most, and the truth is they will notice a change in their care. With everyone having access and the idea of those willing to pay more get more gone, they’re right. That’s the way it is here in Canada: just because I may or may not be in a position to pay more for “better” care doesn’t mean that care is available. In fact, it isn’t, and I have to wait my “turn” (based on not only my place in line, but also the severity of my condition) for care.

    Personally, I’m comfortable waiting an extra day to see a doctor for my cold if it means the guy next to me with pneumonia (who would not be able to afford the doctor visit otherwise) is able to get well too.

  8. Finn

    It doesn’t make sense to me that health insurance companies are for profit. They can only be profitable if they take in more than they pay out, and to accomplish that the rates either have to be completely out of reach or they have to deny coverage.

    Don’t know what the answer is, but it’s not leaving everything as is.

  9. Cara

    There is little doubt that health care needs reform. Even conservatives, among whom I count myself albeit more centrist, know that many parts of the system are broken.

    No one wants people to suffer or go broke because they can’t pay their medical bills. But the fact is, 70% of all medical care in the US is due to lifestyle choices – obesity, inactivity, unhealthy diet, smoking, drinking, etc. People think it’s their god given RIGHT to destroy their bodies and then Joe Public has to pay for the fix. Which isn’t to say that all illnesses are related to lifestyle, so don’t everyone get all up in arms because your mom/sister/husband/cousin/best friend got cancer and they lived a perfect, healthy life, but enough of them are that it is something to think about.

    We need to take a good, long look at how we’re going to implement change and how we’re going to pay for it because, brother, those are major, major issues and frankly, the proposals out there now don’t satisfactorily address them.

    Not to mention that trying to force through huge bills in extremely short periods just doesn’t sit well with me. It didn’t when the republicans did it and it doesn’t when the democrats do it. That’s the kind of change America was looking for, but so far it looks like the new guy’s just like the old guy. Too bad.

  10. Neil

    Cara – that is an important issue you bring up. Sure, everyone wants all Americans to have good health care and be idealistic, but it would nice to have a little more discussion on how this is going to paid for by a country that is already a trillion dollars in debt. The discourse should be 1/2 human rights and 1/2 practical ideas on paying the bills. We’re all going to be paying a lot more for taxes. It is essential for us to do this, but we shouldn’t hide the fact either.

  11. mamie

    it guess one argument could be that if we had better supermarkets with beautiful produce available to all we would not have such need for healthcare in this country. i am definitely not waifish in stature at all…god gave me some generous curves (well, it is likely extra carbs gave those to me), but yesterday we attended l.a. county’s version of a county faire. it consists mainly of stalls of deep fried everything and i was appalled at the percentage of truly heavily obese people out in force. multiple generations of a family, all waaaay over the limit. it strikes me that there is a significant link between our marketplaces and their stock and our bodies and their need for healthcare.

  12. NeCole@ Eclectic Ecstasy

    Thanks for writing this piece and I come hat in hand because I referenced your blog in a related piece that I wrote. Yes, we will more taxes, but we won’t have insurance premiums deducted from our paychecks or pay copayments out of our pockets on top of it. Hopefully, we will break even or at worst the net increase in the taxes will be minimal. There is potential for it to even cost us less in the long run because most of the information I’ve read indicated that the largest costs currently associated with healthcare are administrative and marketing. Administrative costs will be reduced and the need for marketing will be eliminated.

  13. caron

    Sure, let there still be competition, but, let a decent government sponsored option be a part of that. I know I stayed way too long at a job I didn’t like for the benefits.

    Now I have four really cool part time jobs and I’m happy, but, terrified of getting seriously sick. I would literally need a fifth job to afford health care.

    I wonder how much happier we’d be as a society if we weren’t tied to our jobs because that’s where our health benefits were. Do the people screaming about personal responsibility ever wonder how they’d provide themselves insurance if they lost their jobs?

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