Health


Scientists now think that King Tut may have died of Malaria.  As the fellow who sent me the link dryly noted, King Tut did not have good comprehensive health insurance.

All kidding aside, this is a good excuse to meditate on just how rich we are.  King Tut was probably the wealthiest man in the world during his time.  He died of something that wouldn’t kill the most abjectly immiserated welfare mother in the United States today, because of a combination of public health efforts, and cheap antimalarial drugs.

You always need to factor in things like this when you talk about changes in living standards over time.  All the positive changes in society mean that the absolute difference between the income of Bill Gates and the man who valets his car is larger than it has ever been in history.  But the actual difference in comfort between the two of them is probably much smaller than the difference between JP Morgan and his stableboy.  And both Gates and the valet are almost immeasurably better off than their predecessors.

I noted earlier that free trade and technology disparately benefit the poor.

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Mrs. Begum’s biggest challenge is not what the sea level may do in five or 10 decades. She has a more modest request: “It would be a heaven’s gift if a proper drainage system could be arranged in this area where all the drains are covered and do not overflow.”

Getting basic sanitation and safe drinking water to the three billion people around the world who do not have it now would cost nearly $4 billion a year. By contrast, cuts in global carbon emissions that aim to limit global temperature increases to less than two degrees Celsius over the next century would cost $40 trillion a year by 2100. These cuts will do nothing to increase the number of people with access to clean drinking water and sanitation. Cutting carbon emissions will likely increase water scarcity, because global warming is expected to increase average rainfall levels around the world.

For Mrs. Begum, the choice is simple. After global warming was explained to her, she said: “When my kids haven’t got enough to eat, I don’t think global warming will be an issue I will be thinking about.”

— Bjørn Lomborg, Global Warming as Seen From Bangladesh, WSJ.com

[Most Western environmentalists] have never experienced the physical sensation of hunger.  They do their lobbying from comfortable office suites in Washington or Brussels.  If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for 50 years, they’d be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists in wealthy nations were trying to deny them these things.

Norman Borlaug (1914 – 2009)

Norman Borlaug, a true unsung hero, passed away this week.  In 1999, the Atlantic Monthly estimated that Borlaug’s efforts combined with those of the many developing-world agriculture-extension agents he trained and the crop-research facilities he founded in poor nations saved the lives of one billion human beings.

See Gregg Easterbrook’s eulogy in the WSJ and Reason’s excellent interview from 2000.

It beggars belief.

It’s crazy for a group of mere mortals to try to design 15 percent of the U.S. economy. It’s even crazier to do it by August.

Yet that is what some members of Congress presume to do. They intend, as the New York Times puts it, “to reinvent the nation’s health care system”.

(HT Jeremy)

George Newman has a good review of the often inconsistent arguments being put forward in favor of health care “reform.”

I was glad to see him address the “health care represents a rising proportion of our income” issue. 

That’s not only true but perfectly natural.  Quality health care is a discretionary, income-elastic expense — i.e. the richer a society, the larger proportion of income that is spent on it.  (Poor societies have to spend income gains on food and other necessities.)  Consider the alternatives.  Would we feel better about ourselves if we skimped on our family’s health care and spend the money on liquor, gambling, night clubs or a third television set?

When discussing this issue, I regularly ask people if they would rather have today’s healthcare at today’s prices or 1950’s healthcare at 1950’s prices.  No one has ever chosen the 1950s option.  (People would prefer to have today’s healthcare at 1950’s prices, and I too wish that Santa Claus was real.)

Newman, Parsing the Health Reform Arguments

(HT Andrew B.)

The Kingdom of Mercia has suffered an outbreak of swine flu. 67% of the population were infected, though, thankfully, all have made a speedy recovery and no fatalities are expected.

Queen Cynethryth, President and Chief Scientist of the Mercian Center for Disease Control, acted quickly to dispense Motrin and contain any biological agents by placing a “barf bucket” beside the bed of each infected patient.

Offa Rex, speaking to the Kingdom after making a full recovery, stated, “If you ask me, this swine flu thing is a media created hysteria.  The media wants so badly to have a great catastrophe story, but this really isn’t it.  Yes, it is miserable having swine flu, but it doesn’t seem worse than the many other strains that have passed through our kingdom in the last few years. If anything, the duration seems shorter.”  Offa went on to say that due to its mild and unassuming nature, swine flu will be henceforth known as Piglet Flu.

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