The Abundance Agenda

Excellent piece by Derek Thompson:

America has too much venting and not enough inventing. We say that we want to save the planet from climate change—but in practice, many Americans are basically dead set against the clean-energy revolution, with even liberal states shutting down zero-carbon nuclear plants and protesting solar-power projects. We say that housing is a human right—but our richest cities have made it excruciatingly difficult to build new houses, infrastructure, or megaprojects. Politicians say that they want better health care—but they tolerate a catastrophically slow-footed FDA‪ that withholds promising tools, and a federal policy that deliberately limits the supply of physicians.

The way I put it in Launching the Innovation Renaissance is that we can be an Innovation Nation or what we are now which is a Welfare-Warfare State.

To give one example, the debate over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was long and vociferous. One of the reasons the debate was vociferous is that the PPACA is part of the vision of the welfare state, a redistributive vision.

How would the innovative state approach the issue of health care? From an innovation perspective two facts about health care are of great importance. First, a huge amount of health care spending is wasted. A strong consensus exists on this point from health care researchers all along the political spectrum. More money will get you a much bigger house, but once you have basic health insurance more money won’t get you much better health care. Should Bill Gates get prostate cancer, his billions will get him a private room and a personal physician, but they won’t do much to extend his lifespan beyond that of a middle-class man with the same disease.

…The second fact is that although spending more on health care now doesn’t get you much, spending more on health care research gets you a lot. It has been estimated, for example, that increases in life expectancy from reductions in mortality due to cardiovascular disease over the 1970-1990 period were worth over $30 trillion–yes, 30 trillion dollars. In other words, the gains from better health over the period 1970-1990 were comparable to all the gains in material wealth over the same period.

Looking at the future, if medical research could reduce cancer mortality by just 10 percent, it 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.

The numbers would be higher now due to inflation, population and income growth but you get the idea.


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