Small & Exciting or Big & Boring

Two hot investments for you to consider:

  • Start-Up Ace’s product adds 10 or more years of longevity for most people and a very broad group of people are candidates. It improves not only the person’s health status, but also their children’s.  No harsh side effects.
  • Rising Star Biomed’s product adds 10 months of longevity to a small group of people. Side effects are so harsh, many people discontinue mid-stream.

diplomaOne of these is an exciting cancer drug.  The other is a ho-hum program to encourage teens to graduate from high school.  The reason we jump to the cancer drug is not just the profit motive.  It is baked into our very human nature:

  1. Empathic ability: We can see a cancer patient and have empathy for her plight over which she has little or no control. We view a teenager dropping out of school as immature and stupid, not the victim of system-level forces that doom him to fail and over which he has no control.
  2. Story-telling preferences: We understand stories about individuals and prefer them to stories about groups. “This adorable little girl could eat if you sent a few dollars” is much more effective than “People are starving in (whatever country).”
  3. Triumph over nature: Triumphs over cancer are very exciting. It’s human intelligence battling forces of nature and winning.  (For a terrific book about these cellular-level victories, read The Death of Cancer by Vincent DeVita.)  Dealing with teens, by contrast, is boring and frustrating – just ask anyone who has tried.
  4. Immediate gratification: Population-level programs do not have the immediate gratification that cancer care does. Delivering medical care, almost any type, has results good, bad or indifferent in a relatively short period of time.  Investing in people (perhaps teens especially!) has gradual, subtle results over a lifetime.

It’s obviously absurd to compare helping high school drop-outs to treating cancer patients.  Except that both have effects on health and life.  I cling to hope that higher level thinking will lead us to invest in social “medicines” that improve health and lengthen life, but so far, I’d have to admit defeat.  Social programs just aren’t sexy enough.

The balance has tipped too far in favor of the individual – which explains why we can spend millions on cancer drugs and have medical costs literally eating our collective lunches.  Meanwhile, we leave millions without a high school degree or any practical means to improve his earnings over his lifetime, which in turn, equates to his health and longevity.  The combination puts us where we are: a lot of money going to medical care and a lot of people dying younger than they might have otherwise.

Here’s hoping that the social side of health starts getting the attention it deserves. On the whole, we would live healthier and longer lives.

This entry was posted in Money & Medicine, Preventive Care & Wellness. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.