Capital University economist (and vintage baseball aficionado) Robert Lawson recently had the misfortune of having to sit through a commencement speech by Ohio’s new junior senator. Lawson was particularly unhappy when Senator Brown claimed that the rapid increase in life expectancy that Americans have enjoyed since the start of the 20th century was the result of Medicare and Medicaid. Well, as it turns out, average life expectancy increased considerably faster during the forty years before the establishment of Medicare and Medicaid (it stood at roughly 58 in 1925, and had reached about 70 by 1965) than it has in the forty years since (it stands at around 77 today).
To this I’d add another observation. What has been the impact of environmental regulations, supposedly aimed at improving our health and well-being through cleaner air and water? If average life expectancy could increase more rapidly during a time when no such laws existed, but still during a period in which the country was heavily industrialized, shouldn’t we be curious as to why life expectancy has grown comparatively slowly during an age of environmental awareness and deindustrialization?
Update: Apparently Lawson has more clout than I realized, because his post merited a call from Senator Brown himself. Apparently he didn’t much like what Bob had to say about his speech.