The WHO last week released its long-awaited report on the "Social Determinants of Health" - the social and economic factors behind disease.
As the report lands in the in-trays of ministers all over the world, they would do best to file it under ‘B’ for ‘bonkers’.
Declaring that 'social injustice is killing people on a grand scale', the report proposes a vertiginous list of government interventions to help iron out inequality, from taxation to town planning. Many of their recommendations are particularly aimed at developing countries.
Over the course of 247 pages, the authors make the case that only the wholesale socialisation of society and the economy can improve health. Economic growth, open markets and free trade cause ‘inequality’ and must be rejected.
Most of the recommendations – such as beefing up state welfare and employment regulation, and soaking the rich with tax – would almost certainly create economic stagnation and structural unemployment.
And calling for an end to free trade is perverse in the extreme. Free trade has been demonstrated to be the biggest weapon ever against poverty. Since China recommenced international trade in the 1980s, 400 million people lifted themselves out of poverty in that country alone.
The WHO also willfully underestimates the importance of economic growth for health. Despite the report’s undergraduate-style railing against globalization, economic growth is causatively associated with improved health, because it allows people to afford decent living conditions, clean water and fuel.
Without economic growth, there will be no money to pay for these vital things.
In this time of global economic uncertainty, it is vital that WHO member states ignore every last word of this report -- unless they wish to consign themselves to economic oblivion.