Law

The Hijra of India

by on April 11, 2017 at 7:31 am in Economics, Law, Religion, Travel | Permalink

Driving around Mumba one sometimes sees hijra begging at street intersections. The Indian term hijra is typically translated as eunuch but not all hijra are eunuchs or even want to be eunuchs so the term transgender is more accurate. In India, transgendered people are discriminated against, widely disliked, and feared. At the same time their blessings are sometimes sought after on important occasions.

hijraIt’s common for a transgendered person to be abandoned and thrown out of their home. Most then come to live in small communes of hijra headed by a guru and served by chelas (disciples/students).

We chelas must work hard, do the cooking inside the house, and most of the dancing outside. We have an obligation to look after our guru when she grows old, just like we would look after our own mother. In return, when we first become hijras our Chaman Guru teaches us chelas the way of the eunuchs.

(The quote is from William Dalrymple’s wonderful book, City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi. Dalrymple, however, draws too close a connection between hijra and the kind of eunuchs who were forcibly created to guard harems among the Mughals).

The communes of 5-15 hijras are like families but also like firms. The hijra make money by begging and by blessing weddings and births. The guru’s job is to learn the time and place of such celebrations for which she develop informants among midwives, musicians and caterers. A supra-community of hijra divide each city into exclusive territories. Each guru thus has a local monopoly and any hijra thrown out by her guru forfeits the right to work. A hijra thus has little choice but to work as a chela especially since other avenues of work are closed. Thus, the guru is both mother, father and boss.

The woman in the guru makes him feel motherly toward his chelas, but the man in him makes him authoritarian and dictatorial.

The blessings of the hijra are always double-edged. When are the blessed paying for the blessing and when are they are paying for the hijra not to curse them or just to go away? The hijra are not above embarrassing your wedding guests with bawdy and rude behavior.

Times have never been easy for the hijra but times are especially tough now because only the traditional occupations are open to them yet fewer people today believe in either their blessings or their curses. Many people consider them a nuisance. As a result, earnings are down.

Our main occupation is to perform badhai at weddings, or when a child is born. At such times we sing and dance to bless the newlyweds or the newborn. But can badhai alone fill our stomachs? Obviously not, and so we supplement our earnings by begging on city streets, and performing sex work, and dancing in bars and night clubs. Dancing comes naturally to us hijras.

…We are thus destitute. Estranged from family and ostracized by society, people couldn’t care less how we earn a livelihood, or where our next meal comes from. If a hijra commits a crime, the mob rushes to attack him while the police are only too glad to press charges against him. This is not to justify crime, but to reiterate that all crimes have a social dimension, and in the case of hijras this cannot be overlooked. Yet it is never taken into account.

A small trans and hijra empowerment movement works to bring greater acceptance to allow hijra to move into other occupations. On Sunday, I attended a hijra festival. The hijra were sweet and welcoming when I talked with them but it was not well attended.

The movement has found success among India’s liberal “internationalized” elite. India’s Supreme Court, for example, recognized a third gender in 2014, so Indian passports, driver’s licenses and other official documents now include M, F and an Other category. Gay sex, however, is still against the law (although prosecutions are rare to nonexistent). It’s notable that Bangladesh and Pakistan, two other countries not known for their liberalism, also recognize a third gender. The seeming contradiction is in part because sexual categories are different than in the West so, for example, sex between men and the third gender (hijra) isn’t considered sex between two men. As is true everywhere, all these issues are complicated and contested.

Ardhanari 2Intellectuals can also find support for the third gender in Hindu culture. The Vedas, for example, refer to Tritiya prakrti, people of the third sex, and the major Hindu texts treat homosexuality as normal, or at most give it mild admonishments. Hindu gods will often be reincarnated in different genders or even as hermaphrodites (the sculpture at Elephanta island near Mumbai shown at left depicts a hermaphrodite reincarnation of Shiva). The famous erotic carvings at the Khajuraho temples and elsewhere include depictions of homosexual sex.

The relative tolerance of the Hindu classics leads some people to blame Islamic and British influences on Indian society for it’s intolerance but discrimination against the Hijra is widespread. Although intellectuals may find support for tolerance in Hindu classics, the folk do not. Indians by and large are embarrassed about Khajuraho’s depiction of heterosexual sex, let alone anything more challenging.

The willingness of trans and hijra, both in India and the West, to live with discrimination and abandonment is testament to the great drive to live as one feels one is. I wish the hijra good fortune.

Hat tip: Kshitij Batra for discussion.

Hijra festival 2

The amazing story of Lal Bihari, founder of the Uttar Pradesh Association of Dead People, illustrates many of the issues I wrote about in my post on the chaos of land records in India.

When Lal Bihari first heard about his death, he thought it was a joke. He smiled at the lekhpal, the village officer responsible for land records. But there was no smile in return. “Lal Bihari died last year,” the lekhpal repeated. “I don’t know who you are.” That was when the 22-year-old from Amilo in Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh (UP), realised something was amiss. He had come to his birthplace Khalilabad for residence, income and caste certificates. He needed them to get a bank loan for his handloom business.

“But I am here before you,” he said, puzzled. “You know me. I have met you before.” The lekhpal showed him the land record, a piece of paper, and read it out. It said that the previous year, 30 July 1976, after the death of Lal Bihari, his one bigha (one-fifth of an acre) of land had devolved to his cousins. He was officially dead.

Lal’s cousins had bribed a local official and declared him dead in order to take his land. One would think it a fairly easy procedure to prove that you aren’t dead but even in the United States this can take months. In India, it took 17 years.

“The price of my death was Rs 300,” says Lal Bihari. After he discovered he had ‘died’, Lal Bihari went to a lawyer, who said, “A dead man has come to me,” and laughed. Neighbours would mock him—“Look, there goes the ghost.” He felt humiliated. Since a court case could take decades, he visited various government departments. He beseeched and quarreled with officials. He filed complaints. In vain. “The enquiry would be conducted by the very officials who had listed me as dead,” he says.

Finding no help from officials, Lal began to engage in more and more desperate measures:

In 1985, he tried to get himself arrested. He kidnapped his cousin, a boy named Baburam in the fifth standard, whose family had shown him dead. But once he picked up Baburam from school, he didn’t know what to do. “I took him to a movie every day,” he says.
After five days, when the family did not file a police complaint, he decided to soak Baburam’s shirt in goat’s blood and send it over. “I thought it would scare them into going to the police,” he says. But the butcher he knew didn’t help and told him to go to the poultry seller. “The blood from a chicken was never going to be enough,” says Lal Bihari. He dropped the idea. The plan flopped, though Baburam got a new shirt.

…He bribed a policeman Rs 500 to get a case registered against him and his cousin for rioting. The policeman returned the money when he discovered the motive. He applied for widow’s pension for his wife, Karami. “They would refuse because I was alive. This would be a record for me,” he says. But the government’s refusal made no mention of him.

Next, Lal Bihari sold his property to contest the 1988 Lok Sabha election from Allahabad against former Prime Minister VP Singh. Surprising even himself, he got about 1,600 votes.

Lal’s bizarre case began to get newspaper attention and finally in 1994 he was once again declared alive and his property restored. The story, however, doesn’t end there. In his adventures, Lal had befriended many dead people and so he founded the UP Mritak Sangh, the Uttar Pradesh Association of Dead People. The association organizes marches of the walking dead. In 2003 Lal Bihari won the IgNobel peace prize.

Lal Bihari continues to be very much alive.

Hat tip: Amit Varma.

The Indian Supreme Court has just banned sales of alcohol within 500 meters of a national highway. The ban affects not just liquor stores but tens of thousands of restaurants and hotels. In response, the Rajasthan Public Works Department announced that they would now recategorize highways in urban areas as roads! Other states may follow suit. (David Keohane at the FT has further background on the India ban.)

Lost in the shenanigans is that even if the ban were implemented perfectly it’s not at all obvious that it would reduce traffic accidents. Alcohol can be easily stored and if you are thirsty driving 500 meters doesn’t seem like very far to go to buy alcohol.

Entire counties in the United States have banned alcohol but that doesn’t seem to have reduced traffic fatalities. It may even have increased fatalities because residents of dry counties drive to a wet county to find a bar and then they drive drunk for longer distances as they head home.

In India you will often see signs asserting Ownership and Possession on buildings and lots that are Meena1unoccupied or under construction. The reason is not to stop squatters but rather to avoid the double selling problem. In the United States, it’s fairly easy to find out who owns a piece of land or even an expensive asset like a car. The land registry and titling system in India, however, is expensive and not always easy to check. As Gulzar Natarajan writes:

For something so valuable, land records in most developing countries are archaic. No register, which reliably confirms title, exists anywhere in India. Small experiments in some states to build such register have not been successful. Existing registers suffer from problems arising from lack of updation, fragmentation of lands, informal family partitions, unregistered power of attorney transactions, and numerous boundary and ownership disputes. The magnitude of these problems gets amplified manifold in urban areas.

It’s possible, for example, for a family member to sell family land without anyone else knowing about it. In Muslim customary law, gifts made on the deathbed can override a will which (surprise!) tends to benefit late-stage caregivers. Verbal deals in general are not uncommon.

land ownershipIndeed, without proper land registration it’s possible for an entirely unconnected person to sell land that he doesn’t own. Even if the real owners have some type of title, the ensuing court process between the real owners and those who thought or claimed they were the real owners will be time and wealth consuming. Forged documents are common. A large majority of all legal cases in India’s clogged court system are property disputes. The best thing is to occupy the land but if you can’t do that you want to signpost the land to make it as clear as possible who owns it so if someone is offered the land for sale they know who to call to verify.

Signposting is an old device for avoiding the double spending/selling problem by making ownership claims public and verifiable. The blockchain ledger is a modern version. A land registry system on the blockchain could work and systems are being tested in Sweden, Georgia and Cook County. Implementing such systems, however, first requires that land be mapped and parceled–and in many states in India the last land surveys were done by the British before independence. Surveys are becoming easier with drones and automatic surveying but India’s land surveying, registering and titling system still has a long way to go.

The Chinese government have set up a special economic zone for medical tourism.

Hainan Boao Lecheng international medical tourism pilot zone, the first of its kind in the country, was approved by the State Council in 2013. It enjoys nine preferential polices, including special permission for medical talent, technology, devices and drugs, and an allowance for entrance of foreign capital and international communications.

The pilot zone also has permission to carry out leading-edge medical technology research, such as stem cell clinical research.

The zone, for example, offers a way to skirt the slow Chinese FDA (and presumably the slow US FDA as well).

Established in 2013, the Hainan program will open up new treatments–including Keytruda–to affluent Chinese residents who can afford the travel and medical costs, while other patients will have to wait for regulators to approve them. In recent years, mainland Chinese patients have increasingly traveled to Hong Kong or elsewhere in the face of lagging drug approvals by the China FDA and high treatment costs.

The zone is too small to have a significant impact on worldwide R&D but China’s original SEZs soon expanded. The SEZ could also encourage some interesting experiments. Keep an eye out for billionaires who travel to the island for a holiday and emerging looking younger and healthier.

Mathias Czaika and Christopher R. Parsons have a new paper on this topic:

Combining unique, annual, bilateral data on labor flows of highly skilled immigrants for 10 OECD destinations between 2000 and 2012, with new databases comprising both unilateral and bilateral policy instruments, we present the first judicious cross-country assessment of policies aimed to attract and select high-skilled workers. Points-based systems are much more effective in attracting and selecting high-skilled migrants than requiring a job offer, labor market tests, and shortage lists. Offers of permanent residency, while attracting the highly skilled, overall reduce the human capital content of labor flows because they prove more attractive to non-high-skilled workers. Bilateral recognition of diploma and social security agreements foster greater flows of high-skilled workers and improve the skill selectivity of immigrant flows. Conversely, double taxation agreements deter high-skilled migrants, although they do not alter overall skill selectivity. Our results are robust to a variety of empirical specifications that account for destination-specific amenities, multilateral resistance to migration, and the endogeneity of immigration policies.

I would urge a bit of caution, however.  If you are Canada or Australia, and your country is not going to birth Google, you care most about the average skill level.  If you are the United States, you might focus more on policies that boost the far right hand tail of value creation, because the benefits from that will be very high indeed.  That means taking more chances on immigrants with an uncertain future but big potential upside, even if only with a small probability.

For the pointer I thank the excellent Kevin Lewis.

That is a recent paper by Reuven S. Avi-Yonah and Kimberly Clausing.  It has content throughout, but this struck me as the most interesting section:

1. A U.S. pharmaceutical with foreign subsidiaries could develop its intellectual property in the United States (claiming deductions for wages, overhead and R&D), and then sell (i.e., export) the foreign rights to its Irish subsidiary (at the highest price possible). The proceeds would not be taxable. Ireland would allow that subsidiary to amortize its purchase price. This creates tax benefits in each jurisdiction by reason of the different regimes. If the Irish subsidiary manufactures drugs, the profits could be distributed up to the U.S. parent tax-free under a territorial system. If the Irish subsidiary is in danger of becoming profitable for Irish tax purposes, the U.S. parent would just sell it more IP.

2. If an Irish parent owns a U.S. subsidiary, the Irish parent can issue debt to fund the purchases of the IP. The U.S. subsidiary then invests the cash to generate more IP (expensing all equipment and deducting all salaries) and sells the IP to its parent.

3. If an Irish parent has purchased the U.S. IP rights, it would not want to license the rights to the U.S. subsidiary (income for Irish parent under Irish tax law and no deduction for U.S. subsidiary). So it just contributes the rights to another U.S. subsidiary. Could the U.S. subsidiary amortize the parent’s basis under the Blueprint? When one U.S. subsidiary licenses to another, no net tax would be paid. Any royalties would be taxable to the licensor but deductible for the payor.

4. How does the Blueprint work for services? If a U.S. hedge fund manager provides services to an offshore hedge fund, is that considered an export that is tax exempt? What if the U.S. manager develops a trading algorithm and sells it (or licenses) it to an offshore hedge fund? Are the proceeds and royalties exempt? If so, then the hedge fund becomes a giant tax shelter to the manager, because he would not pay 25% on this income–he would pay zero, with no further tax. This is much better than the current carried interest provision, which has attracted bipartisan condemnation because it enables individuals with income of many millions to pay a reduced rate. The Blueprint result is much worse.

If the US capital would move to the West coast where would it be located? Would this make more sense as China/ India grow in power? How would US policy change if at all having a West coast perspective if such a thing exists? What if it had moved previously at some point in our history? Is there anything that would have played out differently?

That is a request from George, a loyal MR reader.

It has become increasingly clear that the D.C. bureaucracy and policy world will be able to thwart most of what the Trump administration might have been thinking of doing.  In this particular case I see much upside in that, but still it is a dangerous precedent.  The political culture of the ruling capital city should not always hold such sway.

The longer-run problem, of course, is that putting the national government in a city makes that city “more professional” in a way that also will turn the city more toward the Democratic Party, noting that many cities in America are fairly Democratic to begin with.

Increasingly, I am a fan of the idea of distributing our government across various cities and regions of the country. so here are a few suggestions, focusing on the West:

1. The agencies concerned with economic regulation would go to Salt Lake City, Utah.

2. The offices concerned with science policy, including the NIH and NSF, would be relocated in or near Silicon Valley.  I believe the ability to absorb the dynamism would outweigh the rent-seeking problem.  There is already plenty of venture capital in the Bay Area, and the lure of government funds is relatively non-corrupting there.  Rents are high but the total number of staff is not enormous, so give them each a big raise.

3. The Department of Agriculture would go in Honolulu, Hawaii.  It would be harder to get to, and once you were there you might just go swimming.  An alternative would be Twin Falls, Idaho “…near the site where Evel Knievel attempted to jump across the Snake River Canyon in 1974 with a rocket-powered motorcycle.”

4. The National Endowment for the Arts would be put in southern California, so as to be reminded that America’s heritage is one of popular culture.  This would be one of the agency moves easiest to pull off.

5. The defense establishment would be clustered near Los Angeles as well, where there has long been a military connection and also a talented pool of engineers and numerous airports and access to the ocean.

6. I see New York City capture of the Treasury as an overrated issue, so if it must go out West I am fine with Denver, Dallas, or Houston, cities with a fair number of direct flights to back east.  San Francisco would work in the abstract, but rents are too high there.

7. The presidency goes to Sacramento, which is already a major capital and has enough space for something larger and better-guarded than the White House.  It is also not too close to the other parts of the federal government, and it would lower the relative status of the governor and legislature of California, to the benefit of America’s largest and richest state and bellwether of our future.

It is hard to predict how big a change all this would make, or how much of the change would be due to decentralization per se, rather than the movement westward.  Maybe those living in the western part of the country would feel less like outsiders, while those marooned in the East simply would go insane.  New England would be the new Rust Belt, and in some ways it already is the current Rust Belt.  Foreign policy would be more Pacific-oriented, mostly a good thing if believe in doing something rather than nothing, but that could backfire as well.

Virginia real estate would be worth less.

As for moving the federal government out West earlier in American history, I don’t see how one might run a bureaucracy where a professional major league baseball team cannot be supported.  So we’re talking 1950s or later, and even up through the 1960s.  Probably the main effect would have been to ruin California even more quickly than turned out to be the case.

One of the best things about Cass Sunstein as a writer is that his goal is to inform us.  Here is his opening bit:

Contrary to numerous reports, President Donald Trump’s executive order on climate change does not come even close to eliminating President Barack Obama’s legacy with respect to greenhouse-gas reductions. Most of that legacy, involving dramatic emissions cuts in the transportation sector and from household appliances, remains intact.

Nonetheless, the order is massively important and, in some respects, reckless. In addition to mandating reassessment of the Clean Power Plan, which regulates coal companies, Trump jettisoned, all at once, the Obama administration’s “social cost of carbon,” which has been the linchpin of national climate policy since 2009. But he did not say what the Trump administration will replace it with. On that count, he punted — which is not the worst thing, and which leaves some crucial decisions open for his staff.

Here is the full column, and it has much more of interest.  I feel bad about running such “remedial material” on MR, but overall I see reporting on Trump as continuing at very low standards, even in some otherwise very good outlets.

I am still seeing many misleading headlines and takes on the recent Congressional vote to “sell your internet privacy.”  Do read this thread to the bottom (link here):

MOFO March 29, 2017 at 9:27 am [edit]

Something is not quite adding up here. According to Ars Technica, this vote replaces a rule that hasnt even taken affect yet. :

https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2017/03/how-isps-can-sell-your-web-history-and-how-to-stop-them/

“So what has changed for Internet users? In one sense, nothing changed this week, because the requirement to obtain customer consent before sharing or selling data is not scheduled to take effect until at least December 4, 2017. ISPs didn’t have to follow the rules yesterday or the day before, and they won’t ever have to follow them if the rules are eliminated.”

Im not saying this vote is a good thing, but it sounds to me like all the things we fear are already possible.

Reply

11 Charles Guo March 29, 2017 at 10:34 am [edit]

12 MOFO March 29, 2017 at 10:53 am [edit]

The rules that are being changed went into effect january 4th? is that correct?

TC again: If you believe these claims to be wrong, by all means tell us and I will investigate the matter further.  But so far I think I am witnessing another case of “Trump exaggerated click-bait headlines” on this one.  It is fine if you think this change is a bad idea, but it is hard for me to see it as the internet privacy skies falling, especially if you already are using Google and Facebook.  It’s not exactly the case that our privacy birthright has been stolen from us…

Here is further useful perspective from The Washington Post.

Pragati: India has tremendous advantages as a producer of tourism, but its tourism sector is far too small. India is underperforming and in the process giving up tens of billions of dollars in foreign exchange revenue that could lift millions out of poverty.

IndiaTourists

Nearly nine million tourists visited India in 2016 generating foreign exchange revenues of about $23 billion USD annually. At first glance, the figures are impressive. Tourism is one of India’s largest export sectors, beating out such leading sectors as apparel ($17.4 billion, 2014) and medicinals and pharmaceuticals ($13.9 billion, 2014). A more careful examination, however, reveals that India’s tourism sector is small compared to its potential.

The table below shows the top ten countries by international visitors. France leads the list with 84.5 million visitors a year, about ten times the number of visitors to India. The European countries, France, Spain, Italy, Germany and the UK benefit by being close to one another which generates significant mutual tourism. Mexico, Russia and Turkey, however, all have approximately three to five times as many tourists as does India. China has more than six times as many tourists as does India.

Although India underperforms on the number of visitors it does very well on earnings per visitor…Remarkably, India earns more per visitor than does China and almost as much as does the United States, a whopping $2,610. In fact, despite the small number of tourists, India’s revenues per tourist make it 9th in the world for total tourism revenues, just above Mexico. Visitors to India spend a lot of money which makes it all the more remarkable that India has so few visitors.

That’s me writing in Pragati, an Indian journal of ideas. India could increase its earnings from tourism by tens of billions of dollars with just a few simple reforms–see how at the link and some additional ideas for increasing tourism are in a podcast that I did with Amit Varma.

And, of course, even without reforms on the supply side there should still be more tourists in India as there are a great number of things to see!

Temple at Chittorgarh Fort.

Chittorgarh Temple
Udaipur (Sahelion Ki Bari) with early 18th century fountains that work entirely by gravity.
Udaipur Alex
Ajanta caves.
Ajanta1

In light of these laws and institutions safeguarding user privacy, members of the House of Representatives need not fear that voting for the joint resolution to rescind the FCC’s privacy rule will mark the end of individual privacy on the Internet.

Here is the full piece by Ryan Radia, via Brent Skorup.  He also recommends this longer Georgia Tech paper of broader interest (pdf).

We fight over health care policy because we focus on demand and redistribution. We could reach greater agreement if we focused on supply and innovation. What are the key areas where agreement is likely?

1) Cancer kills both Republicans and Democrats so more spending on medical research is likely to reach broad agreement.  As I said in Launching:

Looking at the future, if medical research could reduce cancer mortality by just 10 percent, that would be worth $5 trillion to U.S. citizens (and even more taking into account the rest of the world). The net gain would be especially large if we could reduce cancer mortality with new drugs, which are typically cheap to make once discovered. A reduction in cancer mortality of this size does not seem beyond reach, and the value of such a reduction in mortality far exceeds that of spending more on medical care today. Yet because the innovation vision is not central to our thinking, we overlook potentially huge improvements in human welfare.

By greater spending on medical research, I mean not only greater spending through the NIH but also a commitment to innovation policy more broadly. We know, for example, that price controls kill medical research so no price controls. We can also improve the FDA. I would favor less regulation but there are other methods to speed up the approval process which could command bipartisan support such as greater funding of the FDA. The FDA is also not monolithic, some departments are better than others, so we can reform the FDA by making it more like the better parts of itself.

In thinking about pharmaceutical regulation we also need to remember that 80-90% of prescriptions are for generic drugs and due to intense competition, generic drug prices are low and falling–so lets build on the parts of the US health care system that work well by keeping the entry barriers to entry in the generics market low.

2) Increase the supply of physicians. Despite an aging population and greater demand, the number of MDs per person has been trending downwards! Increasing physician supply could involve a combination of increased immigration of foreign physicians (skilled immigration is really a non-brainer that receives widespread support), increased slots at medical schools and in residency programs (via Medicaid), increased support for allowing nurse practitioners, dental hygienists and so forth and making occupational licenses portable across states. (In addition to making it easier for foreign physicians to come to US patients we should also make it easier for US patients to travel to foreign physicians–patients without borders). None of these things are easy to do, of course, but neither are they riven by ideological differences.

3) Demand price transparency from hospitals and other health care providers. In real markets, a price is a signal wrapped up in an incentive. With few exceptions, we don’t have real markets in health care and so “prices” neither signal nor incentivize. Thus, I don’t expect miracles from “price” transparency and this is a policy that could go wrong but transparency would still allow for some standardization, comparison, and computation of tradeoffs. Price transparency would also limit some of the worst forms of bill abuse. Even the Soviets found prices to be useful for these purposes.

Other supply side reforms that could find bipartisan support?

According to a report by Nikhil Gangadhar in the Deccan Herald, Bengaluru may be the first city in the world that stopped at least one terrorist attack using just bad traffic.

That’s right, you heard correctly…a terrorist attack may have been averted with just a traffic jam. Nikhil reports that a man named Habib Mia, arrested in Tripura and brought to Bengaluru last week, told police that terrorists who attacked IISc on December 28, 2005, also planned to attack other seminar events in parallel to tarnish India’s reputation.

However, an attacker who was travelling to the Indian Institute of Management on Bannerghatta Road apparently got caught in a traffic jam, and the seminar he was supposed to attack ended before he could get there.

What’s more, the terrorists also reportedly dropped a plan to attack an event at PES Institute of Technology because there was no easy escape route available.

Here is the full story, via Ashish Kulkarni.

But it is also a question of history and, more specifically, of how welfare states in the rest of the world developed alongside warfare. European welfare states began in Prussia at the end of the 19th century, when war with France required the mobilisation of a large number of civilians. Britain’s welfare state has its origins in the discovery that many of the men who presented themselves to recruiting offices during the Boer war were not healthy enough to fight. Before the second world war, British liberals would have seen the creation of a government-run national health service as an unwarranted intrusion of government into private life. After 1945 it seemed a just reward for a population that had suffered.

In America this relationship between warfare and health care has evolved differently. The moment when the highest proportion of men of fighting age were at war, during the civil war (when 13% of the population was mobilised), came too early to spur the creation of a national health system. Instead, the federal government broke the putative link between war and universal health care by treating ex-servicemen differently from everyone else. In 1930 the Veterans Administration was set up to care for those who had served in the first world war. It has since become a single-payer system of government-run hospitals of the kind that many Americans associate with socialised medicine in Europe. America did come close to introducing something like universal health care during the Vietnam war, when once again large numbers of men were being drafted. Richard Nixon proposed a comprehensive health-insurance plan to Congress in 1974. But for Watergate, he might have succeeded.

That is from The Economist.