The Health Care Crisis Few of Us Recognize

A few weeks ago, researchers reported that drug use had increased “dramatically” among children in the U.S. These researchers weren’t talking about illicit drugs, but rather prescription medications for such conditions as obesity, asthma, depression and restlessness in school.

Another study found that American children are showing up in doctors’ offices with arteries that look like those of 45 year olds.


Walking Cities and Commons-Based Health Policies

When I lived in New York City I walked everywhere, and all the time.  It wasn’t just because driving there is insane and I didn’t have a car anyway. The city calls you forth.  In decent weather you can walk for miles and hardly be aware of it. As a walker I was not alone. New York is a city of them.  On visits upstate I’d see a great many hefty people. At malls I’d get stuck in aisles behind matching double-wides.  In the city there wasn’t much of that.

People often think of New York as a decadent and unhealthful place.  I began to wonder if in fact the opposite was true. I made some calls but couldn’t get anywhere.  This was about fifteen years ago.  Apparently, some researchers have been on the case in the years since.  The current (August 15th) issue of New York magazine has a feature story called “Why New Yorkers Last Longer.”  Residents there, it turns out, live on average nine months longer than Americans do generally. Their life expectancy is increasing at a faster rate. Walking is a major reason why.


Who Decides Who’s Sick?

Back when, Ralph Nader used to ask college audiences, “Who defines what a problem is in America today?” Who decides that tired hair, say, is a problem of epochal proportions, while the decimation of species and the befouling of the air flit only episodically across the public screen, rarely long enough to change behavior in any significant way?

Nader was talking about the ability of the marketing industry to channel thought in the direction of problems for which commodities appear to be an answer. Rightward polemicists scoff at the notion that advertising actually could influence an independent and free-thinking people. They don’t explain why corporate leaders, “rational decision makers” that they are, would devote over a quarter of a trillion dollars every year to this purpose anyway.


The Strange “Economics” of Breast Milk
December 1, 2006
By Jonathan Rowe

You probably heard about the woman who was kicked off a Delta flight recently for breast feeding her daughter.  She was in a window seat, next to her husband.  She was being discreet; nothing was showing. A flight attendant asked her to cover up with a blanket anyway.  The woman declined; and so off the plane they went.

The episode prompted nurse-ins at airports throughout the U.S.  The airline apologized; and I’m willing to believe that the flight attendant thought she was just doing her job. Still, there’s an issue here that goes beyond the lingering residues of prudery – namely, the pervasive bias in favor of commodities, and against anything people can do for themselves for free.  Has anyone ever been thrown off a plane for giving infant formula to a baby, which is inferior to breast milk?  I doubt it.


Disease-Led Recovery

If you doubt that economics has become a hermetic form of math that is disconnected from the world it purports to explain, then I suggest you read the cover story in the September 25th Business Week.  It’s called “What’s Really Propping Up The Economy?” and the answer is what is euphemistically called “health-care.”  Since 2001, the story says, the nation’s medical system has accounted for just about every new job in the U.S.  That’s 1.7 million new jobs for the medical system; and for the rest of the economy – zero.


DDT: Echoes of Iraq

We were on the farm in April, my wife’s parents’ rice farm in the Philippines, and our son got sick.  At first we thought it was the heat.  But as afternoon became evening he got worse and worse. Vomiting. Couldn’t eat or drink.  A fever that kept rising. My wife’s parents sent word to the local manogluy-a, a kind of herb doctor, who scrunched down on spindly haunches and rubbed ginger on him, to no effect.  He is three years old. There was not much sleep that night.

The next day we got a ride to a provincial hospital, and waited in a sweaty corridor with just occasional relief from an oscillating fan.  Finally it was our turn – a kind doctor with a gentle touch.  Josh was admitted right away.  As the nurses put an intravenous tube into his hand, I became woozy.  There followed three days and nights – nights especially — of torment. I kept thinking of mosquitoes, and dengue fever and other dread diseases. Was he still breathing?


Drug ads sell a problem, not a solution

It is an old saying in the advertising trade that you sell the problem, not the solution. That helps explain why the media today are awash with images of disease. Erectile dysfunction, depression, stress, attention deficit disorder, on and on – you can’t escape them and the sense of looming peril that they conjure up.

Politicians sell terror and fear; pharmaceutical companies sell disease. Every state and stage of existence has become a pathology in need of pharmaceutical “intervention,” and life itself is a petri dish of biochemical deficiency and need. Shyness is now “social anxiety disorder.” A twitchy tendency has become “restless leg syndrome.” Three decades ago the head of Merck dreamed aloud of the day when the definition of disease would be so broad that his company could “sell to everyone,” like chewing gum.


Value Subtracted

If there is a test case for the proposition that corporate property regimes lead to the improvement of a commons, then it is food. More specifically, it is the traditional foods of a particular culture. No one owns these. Here in the Philppines, no one owns the idea of pansit which is a kind of noodle dish, or of skewered chicken, or of shucked corn roasted on a street corner. These are part of a food culture; and according to our leading economic lights, they should therefore stagnate into a culinary puddle of lassitude and waste. Who would improve that which they do not own?

Well, it turns out lots of people will. There is pansit and roasted corn and a multitude of soups and stews that I forget the names of on just about every corner — just as, in the U.S., the common ownership of pizza and moo shu pork has not deterred countless restaurant owners from concocting their own versions of these. To the contrary, it is in the culinary commons that invention is most alive. I can treat you to a lot more varieties of moo shu in San Francisco than I can varieties of a Big Mac. That is because there are no varieties of Big Macs. The corporate property regime has frozen it in place, to change only when a hulking legal and marketing bureaucracy permits.


Pot and Pains

For a time I thought I might be in line for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. It was the late 1980s, and a Reagan nominee — one Douglas Ginsberg, a district court judge — had just flamed out after the discovery that he had smoked marijuana with students when he was a professor at Harvard Law School. That got me thinking. If everyone in my generation who ever smoked pot was now disqualified – well, I just might be the last person standing.

I don’t say this with any sense of pride or virtue. I just never used the stuff. I’m contrary by nature, and my rebellion back then was not to join the rebellion — that part of it at least. I couldn’t stand the smugness that pot seemed to bring out in people. Plus I thought then, as I do now, that the way to get up the mountain is by foot.