They’re at it again. On the one side, absolutists who scream that if you’re not for single payer, you’re a sellout. On the other, incrementalists retort that no, it’s you who are being completely unrealistic and naive. It’s just going to get worse.
There is a middle ground, which health-care expert Harold Pollack lays out in this issue, if people choose to accept it. It begins with recognizing that single payer is one means to an end. The end—the principle—is universal coverage. Single payer can get us there, but so can other systems, modeled more for example on Germany’s. As Pollack argues, we should be debating which system—provided it guarantees universality—has the best chance of becoming reality in the United States.
Reality in the United States, meanwhile, has become . . . surreal. We asked five distinguished historians, among them Democracy board member Sean Wilentz, what to make of this current moment, and what past moment (if any) it compares to. The results were interesting, surprising—and, inasmuch as no one said the late 1850s, reassuring.
Two more important feature essays: Board member and Brookings Scholar Isabel Sawhill makes a strong case that liberals spend too much time debating taxation and redistribution, relative to their actual ability to change society. She envisions a post-redistributionist liberalism, one that tackles corporate structures, that she argues could have greater impact. And another board member, Richard Vague, takes a hard look at the state and local pension crisis. With his usual empirical rigor, he finds that pension-fund managers have no good choices, but one or two options that may help them avert future calamity.
Beyond the feature well, we’re delighted to welcome to our pages for the first time Letty Cottin Pogrebin, the distinguished feminist writer, who responds to our earlier exchange on whether a progressive woman can ever be elected President. Richard Parker, the esteemed biographer of John Kenneth Galbraith, assays a new Arthur Schlesinger biography. Also Thomas Goetz reviews Franklin Foer’s new book on how the tech powers are hurting journalism and society, and Samuel Bagenstos reviews Richard Rothstein’s widely discussed history of how the government helped sustain segregation.