NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

THE WHO'S SICK MANIFESTO

November 12, 2008

The World Health Organization (WHO) claimed in August 2008 that "social injustice is killing people on a grand scale."  Its major report on the "social determinants of health" concluded that social and economic inequality is a major global driver of disease, and only massive government intervention and redistribution of wealth can improve the health of the poor.  But the side effects of this prescription may be worse than the disease, says the Fraser Institute. 

In fact, WHO's recommendations seem to be aimed at undermining economic growth and increasing unemployment, says Fraser:

  • Government regulations that make it difficult to fire employees make it difficult to hire employees, especially inexperienced young workers.
  • Countries that have the lowest unemployment -- such as the United States and Australia -- also have the most flexible labor markets, combined with welfare states that incentivize work rather than indolence.
  • More baffling is the WHO's rejection of free trade; free trade has been demonstrated beyond doubt to be the biggest weapon against poverty.
  • Since China recommenced international trade in the 1980s, 400 million people have been lifted out of poverty.

Moreover, the doom-laden picture of global inequality is not as bad as WHO suggests, says Fraser:

  • The number of poor people in the world has declined by 375 million since 1981, even while the total world population increased by 1.6 billion during the same period.
  • The rate of economic growth in poor countries is now outstripping that of rich countries for the first time since the 1960s, and global disparities in health and education are rapidly improving.
  • Economic growth is causatively associated with improved health, largely because it enables people to afford better living conditions, sanitation and health technologies.

The real problem is that the poorest countries do not trade nearly enough, says Fraser.  Nearly 70 percent of the world's trade barriers are imposed by governments in poor countries on people in other poor countries.

Source: Philip Stevens, "The WHO's sick manifesto," Fraser Institute, October 2008; Commission on Social Determinants of Health, "Closing the gap in a generation: Health equity through action on the social determinants of health," World Health Organization, August 2008.

 

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