Will China’s rise be impeded by the health and financial impact of …unimpeded smokers? That’s exactly what William Pesek argues in a Bloomberg (I know, I know) op-ed today, writing that “the costs will be counted in huge jumps in medical costs and lost productivity in a region that needs increased efficiency to move up-market from sweat shops to information-technology campuses.”
Two thoughts, in contradiction. The US, Germany, Japan all rose to world-power status with tons of smokers. Japan still has them, and that country’s huge debt and “lost decade” don’t seem directly attributable to lighting up. On the other hand, the Japanese got rich before we developed lots of fancy (and sometimes ruinously expensive) lung cancer treatments were developed. China, on a per capita basis, remains quite poor. So it’s fair for Pesek to ask if its economy can afford expensive treatments for millions of smokers.
But I think it’s fair for us to ask if China will even bother paying up. It seems more probably that, like the deaths of tens of millions in the Cultural Revolution, China will shrug off its losses and move on.