Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Non-preachy bullshit returns tomorrow

There's this quaint perception that public health is grossly underfunded. Jeffrey Sachs, former Harvard economist and current head of the UN Millenium Project, would have you believe that we should be spending way more money on fighting tuberculosis, HIV, and malaria. He's always harping on a) how little is spent currently, and b) how little would be required to save 10 million lives per year (one-tenth of 1% of the GDP of developed countries).

Frankly, this is getting tiresome. Surely he, as an economist, understands the concept of non-fungibility. Sure, sure, the payroll of the AL East is half the entire budget for the World Health Organization. And yeah, two days of US military spending in Iraq would be sufficient to meet the annual spending goals set to wipe out global tuberculosis & save 2 million lives a year. But these Harper's-Index-style factoids are specious & misleading.

Upon closer inspection, the argument falls apart. If the Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles, Blue Jays, and Devil Rays donated even 75% of their payrolls to the WHO, the resulting talent deficit would shake the baseball world. Middle relief would be the first to suffer. Closer-by-committee would suddenly become popular again in Boston. Triple-A rosters would be shot up to the bigs without adequate coaching, resulting in a lot of avoidable arm injuries. Aging free agents with bum knees? Well, they'd better hope the AL Central or West teams have free DH spots. The salary ripples would spread: teams would have much better leverage in arbitration, resulting in union dissatisfaction and possibly another strike. Mike & The Mad Dog would cut their intern staff. The A's might finally get past the first round.

And the whole military thing: look, even if I were to concede that there are more cost-effective ways to completely fuck up the world order, it's a close call. Besides, the government can't just shift resources from one purpose to another. If we wanted to spend a few billion on public health, that would require popular will, Congressional action, and various bits of paperwork that are far too tedious to even begin thinking about. I'm bored already. So let's think twice before making ridiculous pronouncements about how we're "not spending enough" on fighting disease. This is the best of all possible worlds, little Candide.