Arnold Kling

Decline in Cancer Deaths

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Credentialism Trap?... The Trade Deficit...

The New York Times reports,


The number of cancer deaths in the United States has dropped slightly, the first decline in more than 70 years, the American Cancer Society is reporting today...

The decline occurred in 2003, the latest year for which figures are available. There were 556,902 cancer deaths, 369 fewer than in 2002. Deaths fell in men by 778, but rose by 409 in women.


One of the Left's tropes is that other countries, with nationalized health care, spend less and have greater longevity. My concern is that longevity is measured with such a long lag that the political debate will be settled before we really know the truth. Wouldn't it be ironic if we were to adopt single-payer health care and then find out years later that our evil capitalist system had actually propelled our longevity forward beyond that of the humane countries that have nationalized health care?

Thanks to Daniel Drezner for the pointer.


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COMMENTS (8 to date)
dearieme writes:

Suppose I guess that, apart from smoking, so little is understood about the common cancers in adults that it's absurdly premature to try to link cancer deaths to how, or perhaps even whether, we pay for health care? Can anyone prove my guess wrong?

dearieme writes:

And might I just complain about the sheer stupidity of the NYT: what is the point of quoting a crude death rate without also reporting the size of the population in the vulnerable age groups?

dearieme writes:

Part apology: the NYT reaches the point later in the article. On the other hand the "improved detection and treatment of breast...cancers". Hm. Have you read Gigerenzer's "Risk"? He suggests that Breast Screening is recommended for patients by doctors who do not recommend it for self or spouse. If memory serves, he has a similar view on prostate cancer.

Silas Barta writes:

Haven't cancer deaths already beed declining *when judged fairly*? I recall a graph/study in Lomborg's The Skeptical Environmentalist that showed that absolute cancer rate is increasing, but then pointed out that when life expectancies rise, you *expect* more people to live long enough for cancer to form and/or reveal itself. When you control for people no longer dying early, the modified cancer rate has been steadily declining for forty years.

David Thomson writes:

“One of the Left's tropes is that other countries, with nationalized health care, spend less and have greater longevity.”

Common sense dictates that nationalized health care will inevitably result in a disaster. It allows people to delude themselves that it’s cost-free. The government is is somehow paying for it, and nothing really is being extracted from their wallets. This, of course, inadvertently encourages them to abuse the system. Do I want to look like a young Robert Redford? Oh well, nationalized health care will take care of it. What about the athletic talents of a Shaq O’Neal? My current inability to slam dunk over the great center significantly lowers my self esteem. I definitely demand that the government resolve this disgraceful example of inequality.

Effective social policies must be premised upon the reality that the at least metaphorical reality of Original Sin is alive and well on planet Earth. Utopian scheme such as nationalized health care are based on the silly notion that human beings are innately good.

110/70 writes:

Dearieme: very true. One can use the same argument when talking about infant mortality. The fact that many countries with government-sponsored health care have lower infant mortality rates than the US is often used to argue for the government’s role in health care. It is always assumed in such arguments that the only variable here is the amount of prenatal care that pregnant women receive, hence access to health care. However, this assumption is far from proven. One of the leading causes in infant mortality is premature birth. The etiology of premature birth is not clear and I haven’t seen anything that shows a correlation with the number of visits a pregnant woman makes to her OB-GYN. In fact, there are those who think that the routine schedule of OB-GYN visits during pregnancy wastes resources and that we would do just as well with half as many visits.

Tom West writes:

nationalized health care are based on the silly notion that human beings are innately good.

Nonsense. National health care policies are based on the notion that there are *some* elements of human existence that should not be governed by how wealthy one is. In this case, health.

In fact, realistically speaking, Nationalized health care tends to be about experts rationing health care in order to limit costs. Something that human beings are notoriously bad at doing. (Yes, Grandma's too expensive to keep alive, etc., etc.)

For example, when justifying national health care, it's more instructive to ask just what American health outcomes would be like if they spent the same amount as the Canadians (per capita) rather than compare the American and Canadian health care outcomes directly.

If the goal is balancing medical outcomes with medical spending, rather than achieving the absolute highest outcomes, national health care becomes much more compelling.

Jon writes:

Much of the change has resulting from a reduction in smoking; There has been a significant degree of government involvement through laws that discourage smoking, government sponsored ads, and taxation. If anything this statistic favors government meddling.

Of course we could go another twenty years and find that we are worse off then we think health wise than Canada and Europe; but this does not thought is not as appealing to the libertarians.

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