Enlightened Economics

Economics for an Enlightened Age

Posts Tagged ‘lifestyle’

• Proposed Healthcare Surgery Won’t Heal America

Posted by Ron Robins on May 30, 2011

By Ron Robins. First published May 18, 2011, in his weekly economics and finance column at alrroya.com

Yes, surgery is required for the US government’s Medicare (healthcare) program. But before the scalpel is used to control unsustainable costs, an understanding of what promoted the financial disease is required. Unfortunately, that understanding is almost totally missing in the American debate. The Medicare changes proposed so far will not heal America.

In “Short Term Gain, Long Term Pain”, I wrote “unacknowledged as key causes of most developed countries’ growing and unsustainable debt is their citizens’ lack of happiness and well being. This induces people to seek immediate comfort in material goods, drugs, and activities and lifestyles that eventually cause them, and their societies, great harm, ill health, and massive debt!” Additionally, consider the immense psychological distress and impact on individual lifestyle and chronic diseases when about half of all American marriages end in divorce and 29 per cent of all children live in single parent ‘families.’

Hence, for many tens of millions of Americans, this lack of happiness and well being inflicts significant psychosomatic (mind/body) based illnesses, accounting for 70 per cent or more of costly chronic lifestyle-based diseases.

Supporting the view concerning the negative effects of lifestyle-based diseases is Mark Bittman, writing in the New York Times on April 12. He said that, “for the first time in history, lifestyle diseases like diabetes, heart disease, some cancers and others kill more people than communicable ones. Treating these diseases—and futile attempts to ‘cure’ them—costs a fortune, more than one-seventh of our GDP… But they’re preventable, and you prevent them the same way you cause them: lifestyle. A sane diet, along with exercise, meditation and intangibles like love prevent and even reverse disease… ”

Mr. Bittman also quotes Dr. David Ludwig, a Harvard-affiliated paediatrician and the author of Ending the Food Fight, who says, “the magnitude of the [US government] deficit is small when you consider costs of nutrition-related disease; the $4 trillion that the Republicans want cut over a decade is about the same as the projected costs of diabetes over that same period.”

Hence, it is clear that what should be done is to put resources into proven cost-effective programs that promote improved psychological health and lifestyles. Unfortunately, the US Congress is probably too psychologically unstable to seriously consider incorporating such programs! Instead it will probably resort to changes in Medicare that mostly attempt to limit healthcare costs. However, changes to Medicare are unlikely to happen until after the 2012 Presidential elections unless Congressional action comes sooner due to a collapsing US dollar and/or bond market, or a miraculous bi-partisan bill that both Democrats and Republicans agree on.

The starting point in this debate is that the US is dealing with potentially mammoth unfunded Medicare liabilities of up to $125tn. over the infinite horizon, according to Boston University’s professor of economics, Laurence J. Kotlikoff. Funding that would require all 309 million Americans to each write a cheque to the US treasury for $405,000! Clearly, that is not about to happen.

President Obama revisited the Medicare cost debate on April 13, by saying the following: “Already, the reforms [to Medicare]… will reduce our deficit by $1tn… We will cut spending on prescription drugs by using Medicare’s purchasing power… We will change the way we pay for healthcare… with new incentives for doctors and hospitals to prevent injuries and improve results… we will slow… Medicare costs by strengthening an independent commission of doctors, nurses, medical experts and consumers who will look at all evidence and recommend the best ways to reduce unnecessary spending…”

“… the reforms we’ve proposed… [are] saving us $500 billion by 2023, and an additional $1tn in the decade after that… [and] I will not allow Medicare to become a voucher program that leaves seniors at the mercy of the insurance industry…” A ‘voucher’ program is at the heart of proposed Medicare reform by US House Budget Committee’s Chairman Paul Ryan. It is also favoured by Professor Kotlikoff.

Commenting on April 14, a CNN post on President Obama’s Medicare reform proposals and those of Mr. Ryan, Professor Kotlikoff made the following remarks: “This is simply a continuation of kick-the-can down the road, which leaves ever larger government bills for our kids to pay… Obama’s speech made no effort to find common ground with House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s plan to address Medicare… ”

Professor Kotlikoff also writes about his own plan, The Purple Health Plan (PHP), which shares many similarities with Mr. Ryan’s proposal. “The [PHP]… provides all Americans with vouchers each year to purchase a basic healthcare policy. Those with bad genes or bad luck receive larger vouchers. The vouchers are paid for by our taxes. We pay for a basic health plan of our choosing solely with the voucher. Insurance providers of the basic plan can’t turn us down… [spending is fixed at] 10 per cent of GDP… [the plan] also offer[s] participants financial incentives to lower their weight, stop smoking, take their meds, and otherwise improve their health.”

Professor Kotlikoff’s PHP is partly based on the healthcare systems of Germany, The Netherlands, Switzerland and Israel, who the OECD ranks as having some of the most cost-efficient and effective healthcare systems. American per capita healthcare spending is around 50 per cent greater than in those countries, yet with frequently poorer outcomes. The PHP has great credentials, being supported by five Nobel Economics’ Laureates: George Akerlof, Edmund Phelps, Thomas Schelling, William Sharpe and Vernon L. Smith.

Surgery to America’s healthcare system, Medicare, is coming around again. The changes that eventually gather the most support may well centre around Professor Kotlikoff’s PHP, utilising a voucher system and limiting government spending. His plan also incorporates some financial incentives to promote improved health. But the PHP, as with any of the other plans being proposed, need to include a major emphasis on psychological health too. Without such an emphasis, the proposed changes to Medicare will not solve the massive problem of psychosomatically induced diseases—which are the bulk of chronic health problems and with which are associated most of the huge mounting costs.

Thus, none of the proposed changes to Medicare offered as yet by President Obama, US House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, or by Professor Kotlikoff, will really heal America.

Copyright alrroya.com

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• ‘Voluntary Simplicity’ Brings Higher Consciousness into Economics

Posted by Ron Robins on February 3, 2009

A sweeping new consumer frugality is enveloping the developed world bringing higher consciousness into economic affairs. Some call it ‘voluntary simplicity.’ And it ties in well with my thesis that as a more balanced, higher consciousness arises in consumers, their consumptive and savings habits will change significantly and more sustainably. Thus, I believe the age of Enlightened Economics is ahead us.

Voluntary Simplicity defined

The term voluntary simplicity (VS) according to the Simple Living Network is first thought to have been used by “Richard Gregg who, in 1936, was describing a way of life marked by a new balance between inner and outer growth.” Some might argue that numerous people are being forced into VS-as the unemployed might be, for instance. There is some truth to that. Nonetheless, I believe that most of us are sensing a new reality dawning in the consumptive habits of almost everyone around us.

For example, more and more people in developed countries are realizing that their lives have become so dominated by material possessions that the caring, maintenance and use of some of these possessions take too much of their time, energy and money! (i.e. ‘McMansions,’ large homes for just two or three people are going out of style.) They are also realizing that many of these products are damaging to the environment. Thus, a degree of frugality is coming to be seen by countless numbers of people as the way forward. It is important to understand though, that this VS style of living is not to be compared with an agrarian ‘back to nature’ lifestyle, nor related to material impoverishment.

The Simple Living Network states that the values underlying VS are: material simplicity, human scale, self-determination, ecological awareness, and personal growth. These personal values are often attributed to individuals of higher consciousness, and mesh well with the understanding of Enlightened Economics, which believes that with rich inner development of our minds will come the ability to fulfill our individual and collective economic aspirations.

The exact numbers of individuals abiding by the VS lifestyle, either knowingly, or unknowingly, are not known. But it is apparent that its ranks are growing fast. Evidence of this is seen in the cutting back of material consumption, increased spending on education, and a deepening interest in the environment, personal growth and spirituality.

Modern economies lose their way as happiness fades

Economics should be about assisting us in fulfilling our dreams while allowing us to enjoy great happiness and fulfillment in life. However, as practised today economics is sorely lacking in achieving such goals. In fact, when looking at measures of happiness, authoritative research by Dr. Robert Lane of Yale University, shows happiness actually declines as GDP grows! Other studies such as the one by Prof. Arthur A. Stone, of Stoney Brook University School of Medicine, demonstrate that happiness is unrelated to income.

People in developed countries everywhere are beginning to understand the deep flaws of a modern life based principally on the acquisition of material possessions. Hence, our lifestyles are increasingly favouring the nourishment of our subjective values and inner development, over outer material goods.

The coming era of voluntary simplicity

VS lifestyles encourage more entrepreneurship, independence, self-employment, the purchase and manufacture of sustainable products and services, lower debt levels, reduced consumption, and higher savings rates plus a tendency to save and pay cash for purchases. (For related reading, see my editorial on the Investing for the Soul website, Everyone Becoming A Cultural Creative.)

With society favouring qualitative and subjective values related to lifestyle, there will be considerably less emphasis on the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) statistic. This statistic simply totals the market value of all final goods and services sold. New economic measures that include quality of life factors will become the norm. These other measures might include the Calvert-Henderson Quality of Life Indicators, the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW), and variants of them.

The economic transformation giving rise to voluntary simplicity

Almost nobody in the mainstream economic community predicted our present circumstances, illustrating the deplorable state of economics in our institutions today. They naively believed it was fine for debt to grow exponentially while incomes stagnated and savings crashed. And then they wondered why the consumer stopped spending and acting more frugally. It’s amazing how such brilliant minds could get it so very wrong. It was primarily only those (like myself) adhering to the ignored and maligned Austrian School of economics who largely got it right.

People in developed countries are increasingly favouring more non-material growth that is founded on higher inner values, knowledge, simplicity and sustainability. They will not abandon material joys, but the emergence of VS is telling us that long-held so-called economic ‘truths’ are shattering before us. An age of Enlightened Economics is being born.

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© Ron Robins, 2009.

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