Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Improving Health (3/17/09)

There are places where social inequalities have been reduced and the health of the population improved. Two of these regions have been studied extensively because they are a region within a country and not the entire country. Mostly showing how inequality reduction supports public health.

These areas are the state of Kerala India and the northeastern regions of Italy. Over the last 40 or so years these areas have improved the health of the population and reduced social inequalities for their regions. What they have in common? They have parties that intentionally implement policies of equity.

Because we often have such a negative view of parties and politicians in the US we lose sight of this. This is not to say that the corporate friendly parties that we have in charge don't disappoint. In fact, in almost all countries people's expectations of parties and politicians lead to a lack of engagement.

Political parties are important because they the policies they implement when in government determine the level of equalities and inequalities in a society and relates to the health of the population as a whole. If you look at the social democratic countries (Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, and Austria) the labor movements and their related parties have been very strong.

What does this look like? Social democratic parties are in power at least half the time. The percentage of people in unions is about 60-80%. In the US? About 13% Social security expenditures are high, taxes are higher, public employment in health, education, and welfare are higher. And importantly women's participation in the workforce are higher.

Besides the fact that it pays to be union, parties can make a difference as well. Worker oriented parties also work at full-employment policies. This leads to lower unemployment. Universal social policies. Things like universal health care, paid time off for all workers, and childcare available for all families. These fit together very well also.

One quick example. For universal health care to work there would need to be an increase in health care workers. This would require increasing support for education to build the work force needed. And that requires more teachers to train the work force. By expanding the work force in a wide variety of ways more people are employed in general and also more women.

There is so much more. But really quickly let's look at the reasons for inequalities in a country. Three major areas of policy are involved. One is the amount of money that goes to capital versus labor. Even our stimulus has gone mainly to corporations and focused on credit versus wages. A second the wage disparities within the labor force. Again worker friendly governments have the lowest wage disparities within the work force. The distributive effect of state interventions. Changes in disposable income as a result of taxation system.

We can easily see in the US that these three policies which work in "corporate friendly" countries are most corporate friendly here. How can we change this? Only through a lot of hard work done by all of us. We have to take the caring we have and the responsibilities that come with it to form a strong stand for the entire population. Our government has been serving mainly the top 5% for a long time.

Working together we can change that. Working together can make the incremental changes that will lead toward strong communities. We can have freedom from want, freedom from intrusion, and freedom to thrive by taking a strong and caring stand together!

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