Wealth buys health

The title above is part of a headline from a recent article in Science Daily. Nobody should be surprised to learn that in a class society wealthy people are going to be healthier than poor folks. But the complete title of the article is actually “Wealth Buys Health – Even in China.”

Lets see just what this is supposed to show. Science Daily says we have long known, by scientific studies, that the “health gap” between rich and poor exists in the U.S. and that the gap “gets worse as people get older.” The article then asks: “But is this because the U.S. is a capitalist society?” An interesting scientific question. The answer they propose is: “Apparently not.”

North Carolina State University has recently released a study made of the health gap in China between people with high and low socioeconomic status (SES) and the study shows “the same is true for China” as for the U.S. But is it really the same? The study found “In China, the overall health gap across generations is getting narrower – and it’s getting wider in the U.S.” A strange use of the word “same.”

What the study seems to show is that in any society there is going to be a gap in the health between people of high and low SES. But can we infer that the type of economic system has nothing to do with this? China is not a capitalist society. It has a mixed economy and capitalism is being engineered in China, under state control, to develop the economic resources of the country, but not for the sole benefit of finance capital and big privately owned industrial monopolies.

The Chinese Communist Party can direct the economic development of China precisely because the economy is not subject to an unregulated and out of control “free market.” It is for this reason that the health gap is growing smaller as China develops and it continues to grow larger in the capitalist U.S.

The present U.S. administration has tried to somewhat reverse this gap with health care reform (“Obama care” – so called by the enemies of social progress in the U.S.) that would extend health benefits to 35 million people of lower SES. This reform is threatened and could be repealed if reactionary forces take over the government or make major inroads into it. Chinese people, not living under monopoly capitalism, do not have to fear the reversal of their narrowing health gap.

Here is one of the conclusions from the authors of the North Carolina State study: “Even accounting for the fact that more recent generations are younger [in China] the health gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged has shrunk with each successive generation. This is the exact opposite of what has been found in studies of the U.S. population, where the health gap has been shown to widen with each generation.”

The researchers say it is not clear why this is so. What can the reason be? They plan more research and tell us, “We suspect this narrowing of the health gap in China is due to significant social and economic changes over the past 20 years, including changes in health behaviors and access (author emphasis) to health care.”

I think their future research may find this to be the case. As for the question about the growing health care gap in the U.S. – is this because the U.S. is a capitalist country? – I think the answer is: “Aapparently yes.”

Photo: In the U.S. there is always the danger that hard-won health care gains could be reversed if reactionary forces take over the government.




Thomas Riggins
Thomas Riggins

Thomas Riggins is associate editor of Political Affairs. Reach him at pabooks@politicalaffairs.net.