Re: ECON/BIO: Exceptional Returns: The Exceptional Value of America's Investment in Medical Research

From: Robin Hanson (
Date: Wed Jan 24 2001 - 14:19:00 MST

Max More wrote:
>Exceptional Returns: The Economic Value of America's Investment in Medical
>Full text of a May 2000 report based on a book authored by nine of
>America's most distinguished economists to be published later this year.
>The findings of these leading economists challenge us to think about an
>entirely new way to value medical research and help us to understand the
>enormous contribution of medical research to the American standard of
>living (Full report available in Adobe PDF format, 642 KB -- see press
>release for summary in HTML).
>You will need Adobe Acrobat reader software in order to view this PDF
>format document.

As the list's resident health economist (teaching it this semester),
I have to say I don't think this at all presents a balanced view of
the relevant literature. Health is indeed very valuable, and health
has improved dramatically over the decades, but there is little
evidence that medicine deserves a large chunk of the credit.

That report says:
>Cutler and Kadiyala focus on cardiovascular disease, the source of the
>greatest gains since 1970. Changes in survival rates in the immediate
>aftermath of acute events heart attacks and strokes are almost entirely
>a result of new technology, which puts a lower bound on the likely benefits
>from medical research at 20 percent of the reduction in mortality. And they
>estimate that another 13 percent is tied to new drug therapies that reduce
>blood pressure and cholesterol.

The paper really just assumes, and does not show, that survival
rate increases are due to new tech. And even if they are right
on this, they offer no evidence to think that this cardio
fraction is representative of medicine in general.

Robin Hanson
Asst. Prof. Economics, George Mason University
MSN 1D3, Carow Hall, Fairfax VA 22030-4444
703-993-2326 FAX: 703-993-2323

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