Christopher Snowdon in Spiked:
Does free-market capitalism foster an environment in which death and disease flourish? That is the question asked by academics Ted Schrecker and Clare Bambra in How Politics Makes Us Sick: Neoliberal Epidemics. In this strident little tome, they argue that the infectious diseases of the Victorian age – which they claim, in a characteristically ahistorical aside, were stamped out thanks to ‘organised resistance by labour, via trade unions’ – are being replaced by an epidemic of non-communicable diseases, such as cancer and heart disease, as a result of ‘neoliberal’ policies. They argue that things are worst in Britain and the US where neoliberalism supposedly burns most brightly, whereas life is better, though far from perfect, in the Nordic countries because they all have a ‘strongly interventionist state’.
Schrecker and Bambra focus on four ‘neoliberal epidemics’ – obesity, insecurity, austerity and inequality – which they portray as the latter-day equivalents of cholera and tuberculosis. Strikingly, none of these ‘epidemics’ are diseases in a medical sense. Obesity and stress are risk factors for disease; inequality is an economic variable; and ‘austerity’ is a hyperbolic term for balancing the budget through fiscal restraint. It is also notable that all of these issues predate ‘neoliberalism’ by many years and can be found in countries that have a considerably more dirigiste economy than the UK. There is a simple explanation for why cancer and heart disease have become the leading causes of death in rich countries. When there are only two classes of disease, communicable and non-communicable, eradication of the communicable leaves only the non-communicable. Since the concept of a natural death has been defined out of existence, it is inevitable that more people die from non-communicable diseases, albeit usually at an advanced age. It is a trend that should be welcomed.