Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A healthy recession

Life and death during the Great Depression — PNAS:
Correlation and regression analyses confirmed a significant negative effect of economic expansions on health gains. The evolution of population health during the years 1920–1940 confirms the counterintuitive hypothesis that, as in other historical periods and market economies, population health tends to evolve better during recessions than in expansions.

This is not new: "Are Recessions Good For Your Health?" The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 2000:
Total mortality and eight of the ten sources of fatalities examined are shown to exhibit a procyclical fluctuation, with suicides representing an important exception. The variations are largest for those causes and age groups where behavioral responses are most plausible, and there is some evidence that the unfavorable health effects of temporary upturns are partially or fully offset if the economic growth is long-lasting

Although the effect is apparently real, the health benefits during recessions are unequally distributed and widen the income induced health gap:
Self-rated health improved in absolute terms for all occupational groups even after the economic recession. However, the relative disparity increased between the top and middle occupational groups in men.

The health debacles that occur during periods of rapid growth are equally obvious:
Cancer casts a shadow over the villages in this region of China in southern Guangdong province, nestled among farmland contaminated by heavy metals used to make batteries, computer parts and other electronics devices.
Every year, an estimated 460,000 people die prematurely in China due to exposure to air and water pollution, according to a 2007 World Bank study.

...Thus adding a few more exhibits to the question of relevance of GDP as any sort of measure of human happiness, or the obviousness of the need for its incessant growth...

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