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The Body Economic: Why Austerity Killsby David Stuckler
Synopses & Reviews
The economic and social devastation wrought by the recent financial crisis have been well documented, but what about the deeper damage the Great Recession has inflicted—not just on the market and our wallets, but on our bodies and minds? In The Body Economic, pioneering public health experts David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu reveal this hidden dimension of economic turmoil, drawing on their groundbreaking research into medicine, economics, and austerity politics to explore the human cost of downturns, and to show how they—and governments responses to them—affect public health around the world.
As Stuckler and Basu show, the wrong responses to economic downturns can be lethal—and not always in the ways one might expect. To be sure, increases in lay-offs, debt, and poverty can have predictable effects on peoples wellbeing; in Greece, for example, the suicide rate rose by 40% in a three-year period following the onset of the recent economic crisis, while in London, heart attacks rose by 2,000 during the market turmoil. But other, more surprising health problems have also spiked. Tuberculosis infections in Greece have recently skyrocketed; austerity measures have led to deep cuts to Greeces housing budget, leaving large swaths of the Greek population homeless and creating the conditions necessary for a tuberculosis epidemic. And in California during the early stages of the foreclosure crisis, the state found itself contending with a major outbreak of the West Nile virus. The neglected pools in the backyards of many repossessed homes had been taken over by algae, making them the perfect breeding grounds for mosquitoes carrying the disease.
Trends such as these speak to the diverse negative effects that economic decline can have on public health. But equally remarkable are the examples of countries that have stayed healthy, and even gotten healthier, during times of crisis. Iceland, for instance, experienced the 11th worst recession of all time during the recent economic downturn, but emerged happier and healthier than ever thanks to a combination of factors, among them tight regulations on alcohol and a sense of national camaraderie (reinforced, it seems, by longstanding community-building traditions like steam-bathing). Similarly, Japan and Norway reached their highest life expectancy to date in the wake of the financial crisis.
Considering case after case of the profound and often unforeseen health effects of economic crises and policymakers responses, Stuckler and Basu identify patterns that, when taken together, should help leaders more effectively and conscientiously shepherd their societies through such emergencies. Austerity measures, which many governments have adopted in response to the recent financial downturn, are particularly disastrous for public health. Even in the midst of a crisis, the authors argue, politicians need to resist the urge to demolish social spending, and should make decisions based on their likely effects on peoples health, not just the drive to drive to improve financial growth.
Offering shocking and often counterintuitive revelations about the connections between economics and public health, The Body Economic draws on an enormous body of cutting-edge research to present a fresh perspective on the most crucial yet neglected aspect of the current financial crisis—and to put forth bold recommendations for preventing widespread suffering now and in the future.
"Can the economic crisis have an effect on our health? Oxford Senior Research leader Stuckler and Stanford epidemiologist Basu offer insight into the economic crisis — including the Great Recession — and its effect on public health, arguing that countries attempt to fix recessions by balancing budgets, but have failed to protect public well-being. They demonstrate how maintaining a healthy populace is intimately entwined with the health of the social environment. Filled with graphs and charts, the book shows how government's investment in social welfare improves the public's health, due to the creation of unemployment programs, pensions, and housing support. Each chapter offers historical facts from the 1930s in United States, to Russia and Indonesia in the 1990s, to present-day Greece, Britain, Spain, and the U.S., revealing how the government's mismanagement of the economic crisis has resulted in the public's poor health and an epidemic of diseases. The authors argue that it is the politicians' job to ensure that people's health needs are met, rather than their ability to pay. Societies will prosper when they invest in people's health both in good times and in bad. The question remains: what steps need to be taken to prevent widespread suffering both now and in the future? (June)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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.
Politicians have talked endlessly about the economic devastation wrought by the recent financial crisis, but what about the damage its done to our bodies and minds? In The Body Economic, pioneering public health researchers David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu mine data from around the globe and throughout history to demonstrate that bad fiscal policy—particularly cuts to social service spending—can have disastrous consequences for human health. While some nations have seen suicide rates, HIV transmissions, alcoholism, and heart disease spike during the Great Recession, not everyone has suffered—or needs to, so long as governments make health and well-being a priority.
Brimming with counterintuitive findings and bold policy recommendations, The Body Economic makes the urgent case that while recessions hurt, austerity measures can kill.
About the Author
Dr. David Stuckler is a University Lecturer in Sociology at Cambridge University, Associate Faculty at Johns Hopkins Department of Health Policy and Management, a fellow of Magdalene College, and a research fellow at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Chatham House, and Public Health Foundation of India. Stuckler holds a Masters in Public Health from Yale University and a PhD from Cambridge University, and has written over 90 peer-reviewed scientific articles on the economics of global health. He has won millions of dollars in research grants from the World Health Organization, European Commission, and European Centers for Disease Control, and his work has been featured in The New York Times, The Economist, and Scientific American, and on BBC World Service, NPR, and CNN.
Dr. Sanjay Basu is an Assistant Professor of Medicine and an epidemiologist at the Prevention Research Center of Stanford University, and has taught courses at MIT, Yale and the University of California on global health, politics and economics. Basu holds an MD and PhD from Yale, prior to which he was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University; he completed his residency at the University of California in San Francisco and the San Francisco General Hospital. He has written over 80 peer-reviewed scientific articles on the subject of global health in journals including Nature, Science, and The New England Journal of Medicine. He receives funding for his research on health policy from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization. Basu has been elected to the New York Academy of Sciences and was awarded the Truman and Goldwater Awards for his work, which has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, and The Washington Post, and on MSNBC, Fox News, and BBC News.
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