Written by Pulitzer Prize winning Tracy Kidder.
This biography of Dr. Paul Farmer was picked as a book club selection; and like many of the picks, was a book I would not have otherwise read. The story of Dr. Farmer, and his charitable organization, Partners In Health (PIH) was compelling, and inspiratinal in the sense of “against all odds,” and it was not a chore to read, as some book selections are (notably, my last pick). In fact, I enjoyed reading it very much, other than the rankling irritation of Dr. Farmer’s political ideology, which ran as a strong undercurrent throughout.
Although possibly not a genius, as the book suggests, I think Dr. Farmer not far off, and his drive, his compassion, his conviction, and his singular accomplishments around the world speak for themselves. As I read the book, the image of Dr. Farmer forming in my mind was that of a perhaps mildly arrogant, incelebate, white male Mother Theresa who swore a lot, and preferred silk to horse hair; but as I progressed through the book, the image softened, and my admiration grew.
I found it interesting how he became enchanted with all things Haiti as a boy and young man in his exposure to migrant workers. He identified the cause for his existence early on in life, and pursued that cause with a passion and focus not commonly seen, or at least with results not commonly seen. His root passion I think he is saying is to be of service to the poor. I say, “I think” because I’m not sure if that is superseded by what he refers to as “inequality”, primarily medical inequality/medical justice, but also social inequality/social justice, which perhaps he views as different sides of the same coin.
What I didn’t appreciate about Dr. Farmer’s view of “redistributive justice,” medical or otherwise, was the seemingly blind eye he cast upon the real and significant role that capitalism played in the attainment of his dramatic results. The book implies that the primary role for the “rich” is as a source for equitable redistribution, which of course would only be possible if there were rich people to redistribute from.
How rich would have Tom White become if his earned income was redistributed in ratios of 50-90%,because, if 50% is fair, then wouldn’t 70% be more fair, etc. Bill Gates, and George Soros are mentioned as other major supporters of PIH, both of whom have made their fortunes in a capitalistic system; Mr. Soros, as a hedge fund manager, and Mr. Gates in technology. Had they not made their fortunes from the fruits of captitalism, where would PIH be then?
Then too, along those same lines, is Dr. Farmer’s admiration of the Cuban health care system, similar in respects to Michael Moore’s I imagine. I can understand his point in regard to the public health care system; however, Cuba is in a small country, and a direct comparison cannot be made to our own country without accounting for the variables. The reality is that all that is good in medicine; antibiotics, pacemakers, cancer drugs, drugs for the treatment of hypertension, fertility, heart disease, impotence, all arise from the capitalistic system in which there is the driver of profit and wealth for those who exert themselves in these various pursuits.
Why did Tom White exert himself, or George Soros, or Bill Gates…To help PIH? I don’t think so. At least, not initially. But, by exerting themselves, and accumulating wealth, they eventually were able to make the conscious choice to do so.
Following the Hiatian earthquake, I wonder how much relief came from Cuba, Russia, China, and the European social democracies? I wonder how much relief came from the USA? I say I wonder, because I’m too lazy to look it up, but I’m pretty sure I know what the answer is.
Charity and benevolence does not eminate from communist countries or dictatorships; it emminates from capitalistic and free societies.
So to Dr. Farmer’s vision of redistributive justice, I say phooey. Instead, I choose to applaud the benevolence of capitalism that makes all else possible.
And to Dr. Farmer, who actually walks the walk, and is a true believer in his vision, even if faulty, I say, “Bravo.” And, “Carry on, Doctor.”