Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Medicare, the Environment, and Life Expectancy

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.

Discussions - 3 Comments

Life expectancy at birth increased dramatically in the first half of the last century due to the success of efforts to conquer childhood diseases and bacterial infections. By 1965 such one-time killers as small-pox, diptheria, polio, measles and pneumonia were largely removed as threats to the health of children and young adults. The life expectancy of mature Americans has increased at a much slower rate than that of infants.

Ah Mr. Brown and his wonderful opinionated facts. He and Al Gore should go on tour. They will need Medicare and Medicaid because of this.

Perhaps the lifestyle of the "Greatest Gerneration" should replace South Beach?

Pat Brennan makes the sensible point. As for health-related environmental regulations, John Moser's point is odd. In light of the basis of the prior gains, we might say that the subsequent overall slower gains are inevitable.

We'd have to look carefully at the life tables to assess the gains for the elderly since 1965.

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