Isn’t that the real lesson here?
If austerity had been a clinical trial, it would have been stopped. As public health experts, we have watched aghast as a slow motion disaster arose from austerity policies in Europe, while politicians continue to ignore the evidence of their disastrous effects.
Austerity was designed to shrink debts. Now, three years after Europe’s budget-cutting began, the evidence is in: severe, indiscriminate austerity is not part of the solution, but part of the problem — and its human costs are devastating.
But suicides and depression are not unavoidable consequences of economic downturns: countries that slashed health and social protection budgets have seen starkly worse health outcomes than nations which opted for stimulus over austerity.
Greece, for example, is in the middle of a public health disaster. To meet budget-deficit reduction targets set by the European Central Bank, European Commission, and International Monetary Fund (the so-called troika), Greece’s public health budget has been cut by more than 40%.
As Greece’s health minister observed, “these aren’t cuts with a scalpel, they’re cuts with a butcher’s knife.” The spending was reduced to 6% of GDP, a figure lower than the UK, at 8%, and Germany, at 9%.
As a result, HIV infections have jumped by more than 200% since 2010, concentrated in injection drug users, as needle-exchange program budgets were cut in half. There was a malaria epidemic in Greece — the largest in 40 years — after mosquito-spraying budgets were slashed.
More than 200 essential medicines have been de-stocked from some pharmacies as the state’s drug budget was reduced and pharmaceuticals companies exited the country in arrears.
Since 2008 there has been a rise of more than 40% of people who report being unable to access healthcare that they believe to be medically necessary, the majority concentrated in pensioners.
I’m awfully sorry to read these statistics, truly I am, but how is austerity to blame? Austerity is the natural successor to profligacy. Austerity is what happens after you run out of money. Profligacy is how you run out.
Two of my favorite Maggie Thatcher quotes (at least I think they’re hers) are: “the facts of life are conservative”; and “the problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s [Germany's] money”.
I added Germany, if you couldn’t tell. So, why don’t these Drs. Goody-Two-Shoes blame Germany for the outbreak of malaria? Why shouldn’t Angela Merkel take the hit for the HIV epidemic, rather than the junkies themselves who pass needles around like joints?
Silly, of course, but expect it. Greece is Detroit on a national scale (before America becomes Detroit on a national scale). Detroit was put into receivership after losing two-thirds of its population and just about all of its ability to fend for itself. The situation is humiliating and demeaning, depressing and dehumanizing—but it’s all that’s left.
Detroit is lucky there’s a Michigan (and a federal government). Greece is lucky there’s a Germany (and an EU). The history of species teaches us that behavior like Greece’s and Detroit’s almost always leads to extinction. “People who report being unable to access healthcare that they believe to be medically necessary” should consider themselves blessed they are around to “believe” anything. Especially when their “beliefs” have been the problem all along.
Besides, there’s always a silver lining in destitution:
My fiancé and I receive a CSA farm share every week, and this week we got bok choy that had been pulled from the ground in central Massachussetts the same day. When shopping at a supermarket, it’s easy to forget that our vegetables are grown in the dirt – our obsession with cleanliness and sanitation has seeped into our food, and any produce that’s not squeaky clean is discarded or ignored by consumers. Again, it’s important to remember that this concern for cleanliness is not without merit – we know what happens when contaminated food gets into the retail pipeline – but though many microbes live in the earth, soil is not the source of most infectious disease.
A little rinse with water (clean, sanitized water from a municipal water system) was enough to remove most of the dirt on the bok choy, but what about the microbes that hitched a ride? Many environmental bacteria form biofilms that can prevent easy removal, and a cursory hand-scrub isn’t likely to do the trick. During most of human evolution, humans have been consuming microbes from the environment, and it’s clear that this exposure shapes the populations of microbes in our guts. A experimental link between microbes consumed in the diet and specific health conditions has not been shown, but it’s quite plausible that at least some of the observations linked to the hygiene hypothesis aren’t just due to passive microbial encounters, but because of what we put in our mouths.
I don’t think the Greeks (or Detroiters, either) are heavily into bok choy, but the point applies to all produce it seems to me. And with Detroit turning ever more ghettos into community gardens, they would do well to heed this advice.