The New Yorker on the Human Right to Health

There is a great piece by Hendrik Hertzberg in this week’s New Yorker about how the structure of America’s legislative institutions makes truly effective health care reform near impossible to achieve. To read the article, click here. He also includes a short discussion of the human right to health care:

“Pretty much everybody who believes that health care should be a human right, not a commercial commodity, and who makes a serious study of the abstract substance of the matter, concludes that the best solution would be (to borrow Obama’s words at the press conference) “what’s called a single-payer system, in which everybody is automatically covered.” But, by the same token, pretty much everybody who believes the same thing, and who makes a serious study of the concrete politics of the matter, concludes that a change so sudden and so wrenching—and so threatening to so many powerful interests—is beyond the capacities of our ramshackle political mechanisms.”

While we at NESRI agree with the substance of Hertzberg’s analysis, we think that his overall tone is unnecessarily defeatist. Once you study the history of human rights movements, similar concerns about political feasibility and powerful vested interests can be found. What you also find is that the only way that meaningful change can be brought about is through grassroots movements led by the people most affected in collaboration with those seeking to realize human rights for all.  The history of such movements shows that asserting our human rights can lead to dramatic change. Relying on top-down action from the impotent legislative institutions Hertzberg is so rightly pessimistic about is neither the only nor even the best way to advance the cause of human rights.  Change may not be quick (we may not get to single-payer in one step) but the power of a mass movement should never be underestimated.