Monday, 18 November 2013

Book Review | The Body Economic

Book Review | The Body Economic, Why Austerity Kills

The Body Economic, the collaborative effort of David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu, is a cautionary message from the world of epidemiology and public policy. The authors use statistics (lots of statistics oh so many statistics perhaps too many statistics) to convince the reader that austerity measures cripple and shrink economies, and cause damage that takes years, and many lives, to reverse. Countries are left agency-less, forcing citizens to shoulder the financial burden for banks and governments who have abused their powers.

Its message is simple; the human toll of austerity measures in recession can be, and is proving to be, enormous. If public health is mismanaged by governments, the spread of preventable diseases, rising mental illness and suicide rates and the general ill-health of nations snowballs. Furthermore, scrimping on public services relating to healthcare, housing and employment services leaves entire generations out of work and disenfranchised.

Stylistically, the book follows the typical formula of popular economics/sociological texts. It mingles statistics and graphs with personal stories and simple explanations and definitions to form a picture that is easily digestible, reasonable, and difficult to refute. It's a simple formula, and while I usually find myself getting statistic/information burn out towards the final chapters, it's a winning combination and I love these kinds of books. They provide a lot of information in a short amount of time, and give the reader a basic introduction to a topic in a simple, effective way.

It is of course important to note that the text is heavily biased. The authors make claims about the peer reviewed nature of their work, placing it on a moral high ground in direct opposition to that which it refutes. We must, of course remember that as many austerity advocating texts are also peer reviewed, this in and of itself does not make one argument more valid than the other. However, the reason I think this book is such a valuable read is because it is taking a side of the argument we so rarely hear. Everyone is being told why they must make cutbacks in their own lives, pay for the mistakes of powers much higher than themselves, suffer for their sins, so to speak. And it just so happens that I am entirely in agreeance with the authors.

This text reminds us of the high cost of austerity, and promotes an idea that is not mainstream, although it is my belief that it should be. It does not offer objectivity, rather an impassioned argument which it tries to backup with statistics. Almost all arguments are biased, based on value judgements and context, and this is an important point to remember. Whether you agree with the sentiment or not, it is an important book to read, preferably with an open mind. 

Too often is it the argument at the direct other end of the spectrum, one of liberal individualism, clogging up our newspapers and televisions, and I welcome this refreshing and well-researched book for its arguments and propositions.


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