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A Modest Proposal for Curing Back Pain

The answer was obvious all along: forgive people's debts through LOBAPAREDEFOR.

by
Theodore Dalrymple

Bio

January 24, 2010 - 12:00 am

The latest research from Germany shows that people who are highly indebted are eleven times more likely than others to suffer from low back pain. This is so even when other factors are taken into account and controlled for.

Rarely does medical research have such obvious policy implications. As everyone knows, low back pain is enormously damaging to the economy: it has been estimated that it costs the American economy $100 billion per year in lost production. Even in these days when you have to talk in trillions to get anyone’s attention, $100 billion is not trivial: it is, after all, a tenth of a trillion.

Of the personal suffering caused by low back pain I do not need to speak. Anyone who has sat at a computer all day knows all about it.

Since indebtedness has undoubtedly increased of late, it follows that low back pain must also have increased (assuming, of course, that German research is as reliable as their cars). The loss to the economy must also be increasing, therefore.

How can we deal with the looming low back pain crisis? The answer, surely, is obvious. Those who have inadvertently indebted themselves by going on holiday to exotic locations, and by buying flat-screen televisions as large as cinema screens and the other bare necessities of human existence, ought to be at once forgiven their debt.

Think of the advantages, both economic and humane, of this wise policy. People who would otherwise be languishing at home, groaning on their couches on a pittance, worrying themselves sick, would be returned to productive employment. There would be a virtuous circle: their incomes would increase and thus the demand for goods and services would also increase. The Medicaid drug bill for analgesics and other medications would be reduced. Prosperity and economic growth would soon return to the land.

There are, no doubt, naysayers who would object to the moral hazard, so-called, of such a policy. Would it not only increase future improvidence if past improvidence were so easily forgiven? But it is the universal opinion of philosophical historians that man is a creature that never learns from experience. There is no danger, therefore, that anyone will learn anything from the whole episode.

Banks, according to the naysayers, will not lend again if people are forgiven their debts. This again is nonsense. Both theoretical and empirical considerations prove it is not so. What are banks supposed to do with their deposits if not lend them? How else will they make their profits? And the briefest consideration of the history of Argentina, to take only one example from Latin America, establishes beyond all reasonable doubt that defaulting on debt every few years is not in the least incompatible with borrowing large sums very soon afterwards. The great thing about economic decision making is that mirages spring eternal.

Of course, as a doctor I am not primarily concerned with money or economics. I am much more moved by the vast reduction in pain, and the increase in quality-adjusted life years, that debt forgiveness will bring about.

But who, you ask, is to enforce the low back pain-reducing debt-forgiveness (LOBAPAREDEFOR for ease of reference) program?

That is an easy one to answer: an executive order would do the trick. After all, if you can call money into existence at the stroke of a pen, surely it is possible to make it disappear by the same means. Besides, it would be one in the eye for all those overpaid creditors, who do nothing all day except rake in the interest, and therefore a blow for equality.

LOBAPAREDEFOR is a public health measure we can all support. It would reduce human suffering enormously. Besides, it is time the fat slobs got off their backsides and went back to work.

Theodore Dalrymple, a physician, is a contributing editor of City Journal and the Dietrich Weismann Fellow at the Manhattan Institute. His new book is Second Opinion: A Doctor's Notes from the Inner City.
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