Relativity of Wealth

Nathan RothschildOn the previous page we looked at New Zealand’s economic decline. Here we’ll look at the consequences.

In 1836 the richest man in the world developed an abscess. If that happened to you or to me or to the poorest person in New Zealand today, we’d be prescribed a course of antibiotics and the infection would very likely be stopped in its tracks. Unfortunately for Nathan Rothschild, there were no antibiotics in 1836, so the Baron, who was powerful enough to fund both sides in the Napoleonic Wars, became very ill very quickly and died. Owning nearly 1% of the world’s biggest economy didn’t help him one bit.

In many vital ways, every New Zealander alive today is richer than the good Baron was in 1836.

However


There are parts of the world right now where people still don’t have access to the most basic medicines because of poverty, corruption, war, bureaucratic incompetence, or all of the above. People still die from easily cured infections. We can explore the outer edges of the Solar System and the innermost secrets of the atom but we can’t stop millions of children starving to death or dying of measles.

On the other hand, there are places like Liechtenstein, Norway and Qatar where the nation’s income is such that quite expensive treatments are affordable, and not just for the affluent. Until about 1980 New Zealand was one of the latter places. We’re not worse off now than we were then (in most ways), but the technology has moved on and treatments that are affordable to every Luxembourger are not on the agenda for the average New Zealander.

We live in a world where, like Nathan Rothschild, we may be afflicted with a disease which has no cure. Unlike the doomed Baron however, many Kiwis are likely to succumb to diseases for which there is a cure, but it’s treatment for which neither we nor Pharmac can afford to pay.

Wealth is very much a relative term.

In the middle of the Twentieth Century I doubt that any country in the world had better health services than we had here in New Zealand. In the Twenty-First Century, in some areas of healthcare Cuba has better services than we do. Middle class Kiwis go to Mexico, Cuba and Thailand for medical and dental treatment which they can’t afford here. Others just die. The world is moving on, and New Zealand is treading water.

Treatments for breast and bowel cancer that are readily available to all in Australia, in Slovenia, in Singapore, or in the U.K. are only available to New Zealanders if they can find the money to pay for them.

Professor Sir Paul Callaghan, whom I referred to on the previous page, has been battling to bring this sorry situation to our attention for some time. By a sad irony, he fell victim to cancer and he had to pay for drugs to increase his chances of survival. Because Sir Paul had saved his pennies and followed his own advice by developing a high-tech manufacturing business, he had the wherewithal to pay for the drugs he needed. Sadly, although Paul’s days were extended by treatment, in 2013 he died. A great loss to New Zealand.

Herceptin is another case in point. Our health system couldn’t afford to fund this breast cancer treatment until it became an election bribe in 2008 following a TV exposé. Herceptin was made available, something else fell off the Pharmac’s list of free treatments, or another departmental budget was slashed to compensate.

Why are we falling behind in health care?

Next. Per capita GDP

A picture is worth a thousand words. Our declining fortunes in living colour.

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