Market forces

 has some fantastic long reads on business stories – very US-focused but that doesn’t matter. There are reports on the mortgage scandals and finance, but also on healthcare, marketing, the United-Continental airline merger and much more.

[amazon_image id=”0231160755″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Best Business Writing 2013 (Columbia Journalism Review Books)[/amazon_image]

Not all are tales of scandal. But many are. Some of the reports left me astonished at how people justified their behaviour and choices to themselves.

The healthcare scandals are particularly American. One anaemia medication was given at unsafe levels to an estimated 80% of dialysis patients on Medicare, because doctors made thousands of dollars from administering the heavily marketed drug. It was used on cancer patients too, despite increasing their mortality rate – oncologists could make $100,000 to $300,000 a year from prescribing it. Nor did I know that prescription painkiller overdoses are the most common form of accidental death in the US now, killing more than 15,000 people a year, more than all illegal drugs combined. The US spends $15 billion a year fighting illegal drugs but subsidizes opioid painkillers. They’re naturally very profitable for the pharma companies. As in the case of the finance industry, lobbying of Congress plays a key role in these tales too.

I’ve not read the new Levitt and Dubner book, , but apparently it starts with this proposal for the NHS, which Steven Levitt pitched to the Prime Minister. Many people think the NHS could do with a bit more pressure from market forces, although of course opinions differ. But Levitt – who got short shrift from David Cameron – appears to have absolutely no idea what proportion of GDP the UK (or any other OECD country) spends on healthcare compared to the US. And, as the reports in  demonstrate, market forces, brilliant as they can be at allocating resources to their best uses and satisfying the varied needs and preferences of many people, are never the whole story.

All spending on health as % of GDP, OECD countries, 2011 (source: OECD)

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4 thoughts on “Market forces

  1. And it’s rather fabulous that he says the freakish health proposal must be a good idea because cabbies agree with him.

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