The Public Sector … Differences between Americans and Canadians

As a Canadian who is in the public sector marketing business , I have paid close attention to what is happening in the USA recently. I am quite concerned by the perception of many Americans about their government and its capability of delivering programs and services to the American public.

As Andrew Cohen points out in yesterday’s Ottawa Citizen

“The political atmosphere in Washington has become unhinged. Just look at the hysteria unleashed by the president’s health care reform. Like citizens of every other industrialized nation with public health care, Canadians do not know what the fuss is about. It is sad to hear the falsehoods about Canadian health care. Lord knows, our system is flawed, which is why we discuss it ad nauseam. But we’re comfortable with interventionist government. American conservatives — who loathed the regulation that gave us the banking collapse — are not, and they are apoplectic about an expansion of the state. Hell, these folks would have opposed the Tennessee Valley Authority in the 1930s.”

Cohen also raises concerns about the way Government and politicians are being portrayed in the USA. He states “In a polarized politics with a shrinking centre, Americans are no longer able to have a civilized conversation. We see this in the undercurrent of violence directed at Obama during those infamous town hall meetings this past summer. ( e.g bringing a gun to a political town hall meeting).  The anger at Republicans rallies were appalling. They speak of Obama’s “legitimacy,” as if he has no mandate to champion health care reform. To his critics, Obama is everything from a Marxist to a Muslim. They say he wasn’t born in the United States. They carry banners crying “Don’t Tread on Me,” as if this were 1776. Inflamed by right-wing talk-show hosts, playing to a society that has gone to the extremes, abetted by a culture of rudeness, a congressman can call the president “a liar” during a speech and his constituents applaud him. So hostile to Obama’s success that they  cheered when Chicago lost its bid for the Olympics last week.”

The reason we are concerned in Canada is, as Cohen puts it ” there are no more similar peoples in the world than Canadians and Americans”.  We share more than we admit. It is why we can only admire the excellence and ambition of America, and the epochal ascent of its new president.”

The discussion between the differences between Americans and Canadians is not a new one.

In the late eighties in the book Continental Divide Seymour Martin Lipset returned to a topic which had fascinated him since early in his long and distinguished career as a political scientist: the similarities and the differences between the United States and Canada. Lipset’s main thesis was that the differences between the United States and Canada can be traced to their founding. The United States, the revolutionary nation, was founded on the principles of  “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” In contrast, the “Fathers of the Canadian Confederation” were seeking  “peace, order, and good government.” Lipset focused on the values of the two societies–the United States prizes individualism; Canada, collectivism.

Michael Adams in his book Fire and Ice also wanted his readers to know that there are some very fundamental differences that have developed between Canada and the USA. For example, he refers to the ‘revolutionary tradition’ in the U.S.A as opposed to the ‘counter-revolutionary tradition’ in Canada, the contrasting attitudes Americans and Canadians have towards the roles of government, and the quite different beliefs they have about the role of religion in their daily lives.

With respect to the public sector  in the USA, we hear critics of government stating that we don’t want government to take over our health system. A question nobody seems to ask is: what is wrong with  having government taking over health care. This is how it is done in every other industrialized country. Is the private sector sacrosanct? Most of the health insurance has been managed and run by the private sector for the past few decades. Now if they were doing such a splendid job I might understand the reluctance to have government involved in the health care system but the opposite is true. As stated in previous blogs:

The U.S. has the most bureaucratic health care system in the world. More than 31 percent of every dollar spent on health care in the U.S. goes to paperwork, overhead, CEO salaries, profits, etc. The provincial single-payer system in Canada operates with just a 1 percent overhead. 10% of Canada’s GDP is spent on health care for 100 percent of the population. The U.S. spends 17 % of its GDP but 15 percent of its population has no coverage whatsoever and millions of others have inadequate coverage. Is this a record to be proud of ???

Part of the reason for this is uninsured and underinsured people in the U.S. still get sick and eventually seek care. People who cannot afford care wait until advanced stages of an illness to see a doctor and then do so through emergency rooms, which cost considerably more than primary care services. What the American taxpayer may not realize is that such care costs about $45 billion per year, and someone has to pay it. This is why insurance premiums increase every year for insured patients while co-pays and deductibles also rise rapidly. Also the spending gap between the two nations is almost entirely because of higher overhead. Canadians don’t need thousands of actuaries to set premiums or thousands of lawyers to deny care. Even the U.S. Medicare program run by the government has 80% to 90% lower administrative costs than private Medicare Advantage policies. And providers and suppliers can’t charge as much when they have to deal with a single payer.

Philip Kotler and Nancy Lee clearly demonstrated in their book Marketing in the Public Sector that there are many government programs run quite well. They offer dozens of marketing success stories from agencies of all types–from around the world.

Yes, there are many government programs poorly run but the view that the government is not to be trusted to run any program is quite doctrinaire. Was it not the financial companies in the private sector in the USA responsible for the financial mess we have worldwide? These were not government run operations. What about General Motors, Chrysler which have received large bailouts in the USA and Canada . Were these companies run by the government?

I can go on but you get my point.

As usual I would love to hear from any of the readers of the blog to provide me with their comments.