The White Whale swam before him as the monomaniac incarnation of all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them, till they are left living on with half a heart and half a lung. - Herman Melville, Moby DickPerhaps if the revenge-obsessed Captain Ahab had access to Canada's public health care system Moby Dick would have had a happier ending, but as Tommy Douglas was still decades away from being born, there was little solace for the one legged seafarer. Despite their temporal difference though, not to mention their fictional divide, Ahab's pursuit of the White Whale and Canada's drive for public health care does have something dangerously in common, monomania.
The most important theme running throughout Herman Melville's Moby Dick, and perhaps one of the most important lessons for anyone of us, is that life isn't about just one thing. Dedicating oneself to one pursuit, believing that nothing else has value but one isolated goal or one sole objective, is what ruins lives, be it a monomaniacal focus on work, or something more sinister like a gambling or drug addiction.
But just as it with individuals, so too is it with nations,where focusing on only one policy area like defense or welfare as if no other existed is the surest path to destruction.
In Canada like in so many other countries, when politicians talk about a policy, they often talk only about that one policy, which makes sense, except for the fact that no single policy exists in isolation. Policy discussion rarely, if ever, puts proposals in the necessary and proper context.
For example, by itself, Canada's public health care system is reasonable, lives shouldn't have price tags, but when such a policy is considered in relation to other programs, like education, it appears the overwhelming primary importance we place on health care is not the result of its intrinsic value, but because we simply considered nothing else. Or to put it another way, it is our White Whale.
This is not to say that private health care is better, because it isn't, but most certainly it should be recognized that education is.
That though our public health care system is important, if we broadened our perspective in the policy discussion and compared what should be universally provided, we would see that full public education, from early child care to post-secondary, is a far more valuable pursuit, relatively and absolutely.
For whereas health care is only important for the maintenance of life, it is education that improves life, beyond its original conditions. Besides education improving social development, its costs are lower, its return on investment (from resulting higher income taxes) is higher, and perhaps most importantly education increases technological innovation that boosts productivity and consequently raises social welfare.
Of course instituting public health care does not exclude us implementing full public education, but considering the former is currently fully publicly provided and the latter isn't, it would appear that Canada has let it's focus on its White Whale overwhelm more important things, like the future of its citizens.
In the last few pages of Melville's novel, Ahab at the helm of the whaling vessel, the Pequod, was given the chance of going after other whales, yet he chose to continue feverishly focusing exclusively on Moby Dick a decision which in the end doomed himself and his crew to the ocean depths.
Public education is more important to the progress of Canada than public health care, and we can have both, but if the country continues to neglect the provision of early childcare and post-secondary, we will suffer the same fate as Ahab, that is we will have our White Whale, but we will have nothing else.