Sunday, September 20, 2009

War is bad for your health

U.S. health care spending per capita is the highest in the world. Yet, as The Economist notes, "America lags behind other wealthy countries in the overall performance of its medical system". It might seem ironic then, that the same magazine has stated that the U.S. "offers the best health care in the world." But keep reading:
If you are lucky enough to have proper insurance and be admitted to the Mayo Clinic, the UCLA Medical Centre or Johns Hopkins, you will enjoy outstanding treatment. Unfortunately, as the tens of millions of uninsured and underinsured have discovered, America offers some of the most unreliable, costliest and least equitable health care in the world too.
The U.S. spends around 17% of its GDP on health care. This compares to Canada where we have a publicly-funded system, and spend around 9%.

Now there are lots of complexities here and I don't mean to oversimplify. The Canadian health care system is far from perfect, although I think most Canadians are bemused by the outlandish depictions some American demagogues present. In any case, the fact is health care costs have been spiralling here just like in the U.S. As President Obama struggles to enact health care reform, people wonder, "Where will we get the money?" Canadians are asking the same question.

Meanwhile, somewhere in Asia ...

... we have some nasty little wars going on. According to the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, the U.S. spends $771 a second on Afghanistan and $3973 a second on Iraq. Oh, that's $2 billion/month and $10.3 billion/month respectively. Canada isn't involved in Iraq, but the total projected costs of the Canadian involvement in Afghanistan are "up to" $18.1 billion. (Those quotes express a certain skepticism on my part.)

And how are things going in Afghanistan?
Overall security conditions throughout much of Afghanistan continued to deteriorate during the quarter. In May and June, the frequency of insurgency attacks nationally was higher than in any month since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001.
The CBC reports that, to date,
Since 2002, 131 Canadian soldiers have been killed serving in the Afghanistan mission. One diplomat and two aid workers have also been killed.
There is no mention of Afghans. Nor—and this raises another point—is there any mention of soldiers who were wounded. Soldiers who may well require ongoing medical care. And how do you measure the costs of post-traumatic stress disorder?

Diagnosis

We are pouring money down the drain on unnecessary, unwinnable wars, all the while wringing our hands about where we'll get the money to pay for decent health care.

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8 Comments:

Anonymous Neil H said...

You can go a step further - some of that money could be used to build railways and other useful civilian infrastructure in those countries suffering from those unnecessary wars, helping those countries develop economically.

--Neil H

8:04 AM, September 21, 2009  
Blogger Nick Barrowman said...

I agree. Genuine economic development has all kinds of benefits, and is one way to have real influence in a country rather than the kind of "influence" that comes from the barrel of a gun.

8:43 AM, September 21, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A short correction. The Afghan people are Afghans. "Afghani" is the currency. - Patricia

7:01 PM, September 21, 2009  
Blogger Nick Barrowman said...

Thanks; I've fixed that.

8:38 PM, September 21, 2009  
Anonymous Home Staging said...

I don't think anyone understands why the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are going on and why so much money is being spent on useless operations and pointless tries to "save?" the country. It really could be used in million other ways and every one of those would be more helpful than financing wars in the Middle East. It's just sad that nothing is being done in this way and we keep seeing our tax money being flushed down the toilet like nothing.

Take care, Ella

7:30 AM, September 22, 2009  
Blogger Nick Barrowman said...

Whenever a politician says, "We need to send more troops, we need to intensify our military efforts" etc. etc., people need to ask "Couldn't that money be spent on health care? Couldn't that money be spent on building peace and goodwill?"

10:03 PM, September 22, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Or perhaps the money need never be collected as taxes in the first place. Money belongs, by default, to the people that earn it. So the question should never be, "should the government spend money on this project as opposed to that?" It should be, why is this tax needed at all.

9:01 AM, September 24, 2009  
Blogger Nick Barrowman said...

What I have observed is that when social programs are under discussion, there is a great hue and cry about the cost—and the consequent tax increases. But when military adventures are proposed, money is no object!

9:51 PM, September 24, 2009  

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