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Commentary

UN plan to keep poor in their place
Philip Stevens, Business Day, 9-14-05

Stevens, health program director at the International Policy Network, argues that the United Nations has shown a repeated preference for bureaucratic wealth redistribution and aid programs that benefit elites in poor countries—as opposed to free market reforms that have been proven to create wealth and improve health in impoverished nations.

Fighting inequality, indeed, appears to be more important to the UN than its stated goal of alleviating extreme poverty:

THE United Nations (UN) meets this week in New York to contemplate its failing millennium development goals and to bolster them with the failed notions of socialism, now rebranded as the fight against inequality. …
The WHO and the human development report are therefore immensely skeptical of the power of economic growth to improve the health of those in the poorest countries, because it inevitably creates “winners and losers” — though the “losers” are getting wealthier too. Instead, the WHO and the report recommend that member states should redistribute as much wealth as possible through higher taxes on the rich, greater welfare provision and a plethora of other government interventions. This socialist flattening of socioeconomic hierarchies, they hope, will improve overall health and therefore stimulate growth because of a more productive population.
There are problems with this approach, not least because global inequality is not as bad as the aid industry makes out. Thanks to globalisation, the number of poor people in the world is declining. Economic growth in poor countries is outstripping that of rich countries. And though income disparities are widening, most countries are converging in things that matter — infant mortality, life expectancy and literacy rates.
The WHO’s insistence that economic growth is not necessarily good for overall health is a dangerous idea. The evidence, and common sense, show that economic growth is causatively associated with improved health, largely because it allows people to afford better sanitation, living conditions and health technology.

The irony is that even as pro-market reforms are lifting millions of the world’s poorest citizens in India and China out of misery, the UN encourages statist solutions that perpetuate grinding poverty. Readers interested in more research on markets, the failure of government-to-government aid, and global health can consult Mr. Stevens report on The Real Determinants of Health.



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