Thursday, September 22, 2005

Concrete Health

I finished reading "The Status Syndrome" by Michael Marmot. Besides being a bit fluffy at times, the book is really tremendous at demonstrating that health responds to social structure and inequality and workplace organization. For literal people like me, this is a very satisfying way of thinking about social justice and fairness: it gives me a way of talking about the deleterious effects of inequality and etc. without having to resort to abstractions like, well, justice and fairness. I can point to concrete things that go wrong when you have inequality: people have more heart attacks and life expectancy goes down, for example. In some sense, then, it provides a utilitarian way of justifying liberal policy which doesn't appeal to things like happiness, which, for an economist-type like me, is important (having a utilitarian justification for the things I believe in, and avoiding having to have happiness be that thing). And health is such a concrete category, very tangible and something everyone can agree we ought to value.

The book is good also because it is just really excellent social science: all of this concern about causality and correlation (when we observe that wealthier people are more healthy, are they wealthy because they're healthy, or...?), use of natural experiments (collapse of USSR), and then finding important implications for theory from these findings (particularly, workplace autonomy -- the amount of control you have over your daily life -- is extremely important). All in all most satisfying.

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