We are getting richer

It’s long been said that GDP isn’t a good measure of how well we’re really doing. This is true. GDP measures what GDP measures an’ as long as we understand this then we’re fine. It’s when we try to use it as the only measure of advance that we fall into error.

Cervical cancer rates have fallen 90 per per cent among young women after the introduction of the human papillomavirus (HPV) jab for teenagers, research published in the Lancet shows.

The study is the first to examine the rollout of the immunisation programme, which began in schools in 2008. It found the jabs have stopped hundreds of young women from developing the disease, and thousands from experiencing pre-cancerous changes that can lead to it.

The King’s College London study found the programme had now “almost eliminated cervical cancer and cervical pre-cancer” in women aged 25 and under.

The costs of treating those cancer cases, when they used to occur, were part of GDP. The costs of the vaccines are also part of GDP. But we all agree that the costs of the vaccines are lower, in any real sense, than the costs of the cancer treatments. That is, the benefits of the program are higher than the costs, we’re all, in aggregate, better off.

But exactly that bettreoffness is just what GDP doesn’t capture. Sisters, wives, girlfriends, – to say nothing of the private benefits to those same women themselves not dying – not dying of horrible cancers in their 20s is getting richer.

But GDP is counting the loss of GDP from the reduction in the costs of treating the cancers, then adding back in the costs of making the vaccines. No, I don’t know the exact balance here – recall, we only know this about women in their 20s as yet – right now but over the next 50 years this will obviously turn up as a *reduction* in GDP. ‘Coz we’ve already said that vaccination is cheaper than treatment. Even before those lovely benefits of not dying horrible deaths.

Note the implication of this. People who look just at wages, adjusted for inflation, as a measure of how well we’re doing are going to be wrong. Or GDP per capita. Because the usual critiques of GDP are correct – it doesn’t include everything that’s valuable.

17 thoughts on “We are getting richer”

  1. Ah, but the money the NHS saves on treating cancers will be spunked up the wall on diversity advisers (who would otherwise be unemployed) so there is no change to GDP at all.

  2. Isn’t this a similar argument to the one about industrialisation and automation? A particular commodity is produced more cheaply and the effect is that people’s money goes further. If that thing is an essential, then people have some money left over than they would otherwise had to spend. If it is a luxury item then more people can afford it, not only because it is now cheaper but also because more people are not spending all of their money on essentials.

  3. Purely another story pushing the narrative that ALL vaccines are wonderful so get the ‘rona shot and anyone who disputes it is an anti-science trog.

  4. The final calculation is far from in Tim. Some of those women are most certainly cunts who would make the World a better place by their being dead. If Hitler/Stalin/Lenin and Mao had all died of something nasty before they got to troublemaking the world would be a far richer and better place today.

    Don’t count your chickens etc. Yes –you are broadly correct. But the perverse nature of life being what it is we are likely creating much trouble as well as joy for ourselves.

  5. Serious question: Doesn’t the money living people earn and spend increase GDP over what it would be if they were dead?

  6. If everything were included in GDP then yes, that would be a no brainer. The difficulty comes when some things are, some things aren’t, and yet we measure the success or failure only by what are.

  7. Bloke in North Korea (Germany province)

    And women under 25 have lost how many years of exuberant, joyful sex life this past while?

  8. Bloke in North Korea (Germany province)

    I continue my lonely crusade in support of the number needed to treat, rather than relative risk, as the correct way to measure efficacy for lots of things, especially vaccines and anything taken chronically. Fortunately given the day job this does not always fall on entirely deaf ears, but it rarely falls on ears that are connected to a genuine lever of power.

    How many shots administered divided by the number of prevented cancers? Then, repeat for those likely would have been diagnosed beyond carcinoma in situ.

    Vaccines, as we are learning, especially leaky vaccines, or in the case of HPV partially effective vaccines, don’t just treat the patient, they change the ecosystem. Those risks also need to be weighed up.

  9. Stonyground,

    “Isn’t this a similar argument to the one about industrialisation and automation? A particular commodity is produced more cheaply and the effect is that people’s money goes further. If that thing is an essential, then people have some money left over than they would otherwise had to spend. If it is a luxury item then more people can afford it, not only because it is now cheaper but also because more people are not spending all of their money on essentials.”

    One of the problems that I have is that the luxury stuff has so little added value beyond the everyday now. Like the difference between a £230 Moto phone and a £1000 iPhone is almost imperceptible. Same with things like going to the Caribbean instead of Bizaritz. It’s a beach, it’s hot, and you can still order daquiris.

  10. @Bloke on M4.
    I was really thinking of earlier times when industrialisation was starting to really take off. For a long while, ordinary folk didn’t really have money to spend on anything but essentials. Gradually they started to have at least a tiny bit of disposable income and things gradually improved going forward. Nowadays I would suggest that small limited government would be something that would make us richer, just by virtue of not having half of our income stolen and wasted.

  11. Tim,
    We are better off, rather than richer.
    That the measure of GDP for most of the public sector is the cost of inputs rather than the value of outputs is the problem in this instance, rather than the general problem of what GDP does not measure at all.

  12. How difficult is it to ascribe changes that have to be measured over decades or generations to a particular cause?
    I’m wondering if the mad drive for 100% vaccination is that we won’t then have an unvaccinated group to use as a control so blaming long term issues/side-effects on the vaccines will be much harder

  13. Bloke in North Korea (Germany province)

    All hospitals are always full of sick people.

    Do people really imagine that any healthcare service consists of doctors hanging around empty beds just in case?

    Capacity is constantly manipulated – for sensible reasons – which makes comparisons across time and places worthless. Quiet week? Threshold for admission gets reduced, and you may end up staying over the weekend so you can be charged for, sorry, kept an eye on. Overwhelmed with flu cases? Cancel electives and increase the threshold of severity for admission.

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