Buchtipp: The Body Economic - Why Austerity Kills

Von David Stuckler und Sanjay Basu

14.07.2013 / www.perseusbooksgroup.com, Mai 2013


Politicians have talked endlessly about the seismic economic and social impacts of the recent financial crisis, but many continue to ignore its disastrous effects on human health—and have even exacerbated them, by adopting harsh austerity measures and cutting key social programs at a time when constituents need them most. The result, as pioneering public health experts David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu reveal in this provocative book, is that many countries have turned their recessions into veritable epidemics, ruining or extinguishing thousands of lives in a misguided attempt to balance budgets and shore up financial markets. Yet sound alternative policies could instead help improve economies and protect public health at the same time. In The Body Economic, Stuckler and Basu mine data from around the globe and throughout history to show how government policy becomes a matter of life and death during financial crises. In a series of historical case studies stretching from 1930s America, to Russia and Indonesia in the 1990s, to present-day Greece, Britain, Spain, and the U.S., Stuckler and Basu reveal that governmental mismanagement of financial strife has resulted in a grim array of human tragedies, from suicides to HIV infections. Yet people can and do stay healthy, and even get healthier, during downturns. During the Great Depression, U.S. deaths actually plummeted, and today Iceland, Norway, and Japan are happier and healthier than ever, proof that public wellbeing need not be sacrificed for fiscal health. Full of shocking and counterintuitive revelations and bold policy recommendations, The Body Economic offers an alternative to austerity—one that will prevent widespread suffering, both now and in the future.


SURPRISING FACTS IN THE BODY ECONOMIC: • Life expectancy in the United States dipped for the first time in years during the recent recession, falling to 50th in the world. • Our roads have gotten safer, though: automobile deaths dropped by 9.7% in the U.S. in 2010, while Northern Ireland reported an unprecedented fall of 50% in fatalities and 20% in serious injuries related to car accidents. • Life expectancy can actually increase during downturns, particularly when gas prices and cars become prohibitively expensive for most people. In the United States, 1931—the height of the Great Depression—was actually one of the healthiest years in the history of the country, and 1933 saw the lowest gross death rate on record. Part of the reason was that there were fewer cars on the road; many Americans could no longer afford cars or gasoline, so automobile accidents decreased for the first time in the history of the automobile. • Rates of infectious disease transmission can jump during recessions, particularly when governments cut public health spending. There has been a significant rise in HIV infection rates in Greece, in large part because of the government’s flagging support for drug treatment programs. The bulk of new HIV cases come from people using infected needles, and while heroin use among desperate, homeless, and out of work Greeks is rising—it increased by 20% in Athens between 2010 and 2011—the number of clean needles is dropping precipitously. (Although the World Health Organization recommends that there be 200 clean needles available for every drug user to avoid HIV infection, Greece estimates that the ratio is more like 3 to 1.) Cuts to drug rehabilitation programs is a big part of the problem, and the effects are staggering: Greece has seen a 1000% rise in new HIV infections among drug users in recent years. • Government intervention can save lives, but often in unexpected ways. Following the large-scale privatization and liberalization of Russia’s economy in the early ‘90s—a strategy dubbed “Shock Therapy”—some 10 million working-age men died, almost 40% of them from heavy drinking. Iceland, by contrast, emerged from the recent world financial crisis happier and healthier than ever, despite suffering one of the worst recessions in history. Part of the reason was the government’s refusal to follow the IMF’s advice and privatize alcohol to boost the economy; regulation stayed tight, prices stayed high, and Icelanders stayed sober. • Austerity hurts—literally. During the East Asian financial crisis in 1998, Malaysia countered public health crises and managed poverty rates by refusing IMF assistance and austerity measures and maintaining social spending. South Korea, Thailand, and Indonesia followed the IMF’s directions and saw poverty, HIV infections, and suicide rates soar, whereas Malaysia experienced little or no increase in any of these areas

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