Health Is Our Economy
by The Opportunity Agenda, Fri Oct 03, 2008 at 01:44:36 PM EDT
As Congress considered the bailout of Wall Street, there appears to have been little focus in the debate on the underlying causes of the larger economic situation that the United States is in. Our current predicament is not just about mortgages or the undercapitalization of the financial sector; it is also very much about the shift in priorities in this country over the last thirty years. We have come a long way from the idea of The Great Society, a productive national community that not only took care of itself, but grows consistently stronger for having done so. In the New York Times this past weekend, Ezekiel Emanuel, chair of bioethics at the National Institutes for Health, argues that in some ways, the current crisis is a symptom of "chronic problems," specifically the continued unfulfillment of our human right to health care:
[S]olving the deep problem of the economy cannot be done without solving the health care mess. Economic, tax and health care policy are inextricably linked. Middle-class incomes have hardly grown in 30 or more years (except for five years in the 1990s when health care costs were moderated), budget deficits are escalating and will only worsen and investment in education and other engines of long-term economic growth are declining.
These problems are all driven by health care. Rather than go to wage increases, almost all of the growth in workers' productivity has been swallowed up by rising health care costs.
Basic economic security cannot exist without good health, and without a foundation of economic security, our efforts to aspire to be a better nation--one that fulfills the interconnected promises of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness--are in danger of proving futile. As President Franklin D. Roosevelt said in his 1944 State of the Union address, "we have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence."