What will curing diseases actually accomplish?

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CorruptUser
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What will curing diseases actually accomplish?

Postby CorruptUser » Fri Sep 24, 2010 12:09 am UTC

In a developed country, curing a disease allows someone to continue contributing to society. But in the undeveloped world, especially parts of the world where you are just a few missed meals away from death, the story is a bit different. If the person dies of disease, there is more food to go around. If the person survives, there are now more people that need to eat, which results in someone "healthy" dying.

So I ask, what is the point in curing and/or treating diseases in the undeveloped world? The main diseases I have in mind are malaria and AIDS, as they kill millions a year, but there are plenty of other diseases to choose from.

Another point to consider is the Social Darwinist perspective, as vile as that may be. Curing illnesses may mean there is no significant advantage to having a more effective immune system. It is possible that the immune system will become a DEFECT, as you are wasting valuable proteins and calories on unneeded bodily functions. Take into account all the harmful mutations that are not 'eliminated', and, well, you probably know where this is going. I shouldn't complain too much, as I would not have survived infancy without modern medicine (I won't go into too much detail), but it is something to consider.



You could argue the diseased person may have been the next Stephen Hawking, but the same argument could be made for the "healthy" person that now starves to death. Or you could point out that the person may have been the next Stalin (I use him, because he survived smallpox).

I do see the point in eradicating diseases, but only in that it prevents the disease from spreading to parts of the world where curing someone doesn't cause someone else to starve.

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Re: What will curing diseases actually accomplish?

Postby Vaniver » Fri Sep 24, 2010 2:42 am UTC

CorruptUser wrote:If the person dies of disease, there is more food to go around.
This might seem true on the macro scale. But is it true on the micro scale? Someone getting a disease can easily reduce production of other valuable things, including food. And if it's not true on the micro scale, it's generally not true on the macro scale.

CorruptUser wrote:Another point to consider is the Social Darwinist perspective, as vile as that may be.
Why would you want to select people for immune systems instead of other factors, like whether or not they're productive enough to acquire food?
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Re: What will curing diseases actually accomplish?

Postby elasto » Fri Sep 24, 2010 2:49 am UTC

It's reasonable to assume that almost every actively working person, no matter how poor the country is, is contributing more to their country's economy than they are taking out. This is even more definitely true in developing countries with no social safety nets.* The more working people there are, the higher the country's GDP, and the quicker it can develop its infrastructure, grow its companies etc.

Diseases don't just kill, permanently removing a source of money to that country's economy, they also incapacitate, causing money earnt by family members to have to be spent on care rather than more productive forms of economic growth.

It's in the West's interests that developing countries grow their economies, not just the developing country's. The developing country is a future market for Western goods. The more healthy, active workers there are, the quicker the country will grow and become a source of revenue to Western firms.

It's definitely in our self-interest to cure diseases in developing countries.

*Edit: You may bring up the counterpoint of foreign aid, and I would argue that often foreign aid is highly counterproductive over the longer term and simply shouldn't be done in the way it has been historically. For example - dumping tons of X bought from Western firms onto the local market for free - killing the local producers. Western countries slightly selfishly often prefer to buy aid from their own firms - thereby keeping their taxpayer money in-country - rather than buy locally. The best long term forms of aid are probably micro-loans and investment in infrastructure (water, power, roads, school buildings, mobile phone masts and such) anyway, and other forms of aid should be strictly short-term in nature and sourced regionally if at all possible.
Last edited by elasto on Fri Sep 24, 2010 3:01 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: What will curing diseases actually accomplish?

Postby poxic » Fri Sep 24, 2010 3:00 am UTC

Search "malaria gap" to find a lot of discussion about this sort of thing. Once people stop having to spend all their money on hospital care, they can invest in business, including food production. (Partially ninja'd by elasto on this.)

Southeast Asia, for example, more or less conquered malaria in the last few decades and has become an economic centre since then. The Petronas Twin Towers, anyone? Completely unthinkable when I was a kid (during the '70s, for the curious). That whole region had been written off as diseased and poverty-stricken by the West, when malaria was their main export.

/of course, if you're interested in long-term sustainability, less population would be better, so hey, go go ebola
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Re: What will curing diseases actually accomplish?

Postby CorruptUser » Fri Sep 24, 2010 4:25 am UTC

Alright, people that survive but become crippled from a disease are certainly a drain on their societies. But that is what happens to people with AIDS. The ones who receive treatment anyway. The AIDS cocktail drugs don't work like your once a day vitamin; they have some very nasty common side-effects.

Yes, I will bring up the problem of foreign aide. If every person was producing more than they consumed, these countries would never need foreign aide.

The main problem I see in Africa is the crime; criminals not only consume while not producing*, but "undo" production through injury, wasting others' time, destruction of property, disincentive to invest, etc. Considering that governments were originally formed to stop criminals/roving bands of criminals, I'd hazard a guess that security and crime control are somewhat important.



*Generally speaking. Smuggling is a form of trading, Prostitution is entertainment of a sort, as is Gambling. Their legality depends on whether or not the local society believes that the negative externalities, such as addiction, spread of disease, "moral decay", and so forth, outweigh the benefits.

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Re: What will curing diseases actually accomplish?

Postby dumbzebra » Fri Sep 24, 2010 11:17 am UTC

As i see it, we support (peoples´ donations) developing countries medically not because it´s in our economic interest but because the majority thinks it´s the moral right thing to do.
Don´t really know about the government spending though it might be they only "invest" in countries that are economical important.

Btw., it may be a little bit off-topic but regarding social-darwinism: I read somewhere that if we continue to supress genetic diseases by medicine, natural evolution won´t take place, hence genetic diseases will be inherited (instead of the diseased dying before reproducing) and the number of diseased will increase (see increase of diabetis-patients in the last 100 years).
Soon everyone will have some kind of genetic defect in his genes.
This is a problem for all countries or even mainly developed countries though.
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Re: What will curing diseases actually accomplish?

Postby Belial » Fri Sep 24, 2010 12:54 pm UTC

Yeah, to echo everyone else, it's kindof hard to get a really good infrastructure and stable society together when everyone's fucking dying all the time. Even if people dying off somehow freed up more food (instead of killing all your farmers...), the chaos caused by people falling sick and dying constantly would negate basically any benefit to productivity.

Which is far from the only reason that "Oh, there are too many of them, just let some of them die" is a terrible approach, but it's certainly a reason
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Re: What will curing diseases actually accomplish?

Postby ImagingGeek » Fri Sep 24, 2010 2:00 pm UTC

Been some good answers here. I actually do some disease research (formerly an HIV guy, now do a lot of malaria and bacterial infection stuff), and have spent time in 3rd world clinics, so I may be able to offer some insights.

First of all, the OP has a somewhat skewed view of the health prospects of most in the 3rd world. While they do have a much lower standard of living, they are generally far from the "a few missed meals away from death" the OP describes. Famine tends to be transitory - chronic malnutrition is another issue and while can be caused by famine, is more often caused by other factors (i.e. a lack of specific foods containing needed vitamins). So its not simply a matter of freeing up a bit of food - usually there is enough food to go around. They do have a bigger risk in regards to food security - i.e. the chances of them facing a famine or other food shortage is much higher than here in the developed world.

The real issues with 3rd world disease are multifactorial, and as I'm sure everyone appreciates, can be different for different regions. Loss of life is an obvious one - a dead person cannot work, and thus cannot contribute to the economy. Most 3rd world nations are still highly patriarchal, meaning the death of a father can leave an entire family devoid of income. In this case the death doesn't provide more food, but rather takes the means to acquire food away.

Another big issue is cost. Even in the 3rd world, medical care is available. But it is also costly, especially from the POV of someone earning the equivalent of a few dollars a day. So even a survived infection can leave a previously self-supporting family destitute. Its not uncommon for patients to leave hospitals mid-treatment, simply because they no longer have the money to buy the drugs and medical supplies needed for their care. In those countries where the government tries to provide care, this becomes a big drain on resources. One clinic I was at in Uganda went through more antibiotics per month than the hospital I was stationed at back home went through in a year - and the hospital back home was ~5X the size to boot. In countries where malaria is endemic, the cost of drugs for treating patients with malaria can be upto 50% of a hospitals budget.

There is a human cost as well - illness and deaths of friends and family is emotionally tolling. Plus, it is not uncommon for infectious diseases to leave children orphaned. I don't know how you put a dollar value on those factors, but they are a huge impact of these diseases.

In the context of a country as a whole, the biggest issue is one of lost productivity. The single greatest gap in regards to 3rd world lifespans is found in young children and young adults - they are far more likely to die, compared to equivalent ages in the west - than are middle aged adults and the elderly. These are also the single most important group in regards to securing long-term economic growth - they are the upcoming and new workers. The loss of someone in that age group, economically speaking, is equivalent to loosing several older adults. This can hugely stunt the economic growth of a country. For example, HIV in central & sub-saharn Africa has reduced life expectancy to 30-40 years. This has a huge economic cost - both in that most workers die during their prime producing years, as well as in direct and indirect health care and social costs.

Eliminating disease won't fix the 3rd world, but it would go a long way towards helping in their economic development. Plus it would eliminate a lot of pain and suffering - something I would argue has a value above and beyond simple dollars and cents.

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Re: What will curing diseases actually accomplish?

Postby qetzal » Fri Sep 24, 2010 4:14 pm UTC

Others have ably addressed most of the points in the OP, so I'll confine myself to this:

CorruptUser wrote:Another point to consider is the Social Darwinist perspective, as vile as that may be. Curing illnesses may mean there is no significant advantage to having a more effective immune system. It is possible that the immune system will become a DEFECT, as you are wasting valuable proteins and calories on unneeded bodily functions. Take into account all the harmful mutations that are not 'eliminated', and, well, you probably know where this is going. I shouldn't complain too much, as I would not have survived infancy without modern medicine (I won't go into too much detail), but it is something to consider.


Even assuming this would happen, I don't see how it's an argument against curing diseases. Why sould we care if our immune systems lost the ability to protect us from something that we don't need protection from any more? Especially since our ability to cure disease medically would have to be AMAZINGLY better than it currently is to make immune systems a net disadvantage. And even then, evolutionary loss of human immune system function would take millenia.

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Re: What will curing diseases actually accomplish?

Postby LaserGuy » Fri Sep 24, 2010 4:37 pm UTC

The short answer I would give is that societies where a significant proportion of the population is seriously ill have extreme difficulty in maintaining a functional production base, agriculture base, and are unable to protect themselves against hostile neighbours. While you might contend that disease-related deaths free up resources for the remaining members of society to use more efficiently, the problem is that the effects of disease are largely random--that is, while certainly people who are malnourished are more likely to succumb to disease, in epidemic conditions, members that are also extremely productive are likely to become ill as well. It stifles trade and commerce--how willing would you be to loan out money, for example, knowing that there is a fairly non-trivial likelihood that the person will die long before they can pay off the loan; or if your business partners, workers, etc. suddenly start dying en masse, it could undermine your business entirely. It has been argued, for example, that the decline of the Roman Empire can be attributed in large part due to the Justinian Plague (probably the black plague), which decimated the population of the empire for several generations.

Finally, I point out that one simple, important reason to treat disease is because disease is communicable. A person infected with HIV can potentially spread the disease to a number of people without any of them realising that the infection has taken place, particularly if no diagnosis was ever made. Similarly, tuberculosis, leprosy, measles, syphillis, Hepatitis, to name a few, can be transferred from person-to-person--hence having even a small number of untreated and/or undiagnosed infections of these diseases can cause them to spread rapidly through a community. While it is possible that the death of a single person infected with tuberculosis could mean more food for the surviving members of society, if that person's untreated TB also results in 5 more infections, then the situation continues to deteriorate rather than improve.

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Re: What will curing diseases actually accomplish?

Postby ImagingGeek » Fri Sep 24, 2010 4:40 pm UTC

CorruptUser wrote:Another point to consider is the Social Darwinist perspective, as vile as that may be. Curing illnesses may mean there is no significant advantage to having a more effective immune system. It is possible that the immune system will become a DEFECT, as you are wasting valuable proteins and calories on unneeded bodily functions. Take into account all the harmful mutations that are not 'eliminated', and, well, you probably know where this is going. I shouldn't complain too much, as I would not have survived infancy without modern medicine (I won't go into too much detail), but it is something to consider.

I had missed this statement by the OP - thanx qetzal.

There are a few fundamental errors in this statement:
1) Social darwinism is the wrong "science" (IMO SD isn't a science). This is just plain-ol-evolution.
2) Your immune system preforms numerous functions other than immunity - tissue homeostasis, wound healing, development & maintenance of the gut, removal or particulate matter from places such as airspaces, etc. Ergo, removing infectious agents won't preclude the need for our existent immune system.
3) The removal of selection generally accelerates evolution. Selection slows evolution (as measured by the acquisition of new traits). Ergo, removing diseases should enhance, not harm, our evolution as a species - both from the perspective of reducing selective forces, as well as through the perspective of the immune system would then be free to evolve new or altered functions.
4) Cures for diseases doesn't mean we'll not be exposed to them. So long as a pathogen remains in the environment, we will need an immune system to "hold the fort" until such a time that we feel the symptoms and go to the doc.

and lastly,

5) Pathogens evolve. Cures from today won't kill the pathogens of tomorrow.

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Re: What will curing diseases actually accomplish?

Postby bosman » Fri Sep 24, 2010 5:38 pm UTC

Sorry. Besides being cruel and uncivil, sounds to me you are not living in the world of today. Few places in the world are a few missed meals away from death. "curing" is not a well chosen word either. Many disease have no cure but treatment, which incur more expenses than a "cure" ironically. Treatment can be different and have much different costs in different worlds (developed and underdeveloped in your words). And you better define "developed" and "underdeveloped" used in your post as they can be quite different, economically or medically. Talking about social darwin, in your logic, should not it be more a problem in the developed world since more people with so called "DEFECT" systems survive with better accessed treatments? The cost of such treatment must mean tons of food elsewhere if you mean so. All in all, people, be rich or poor, should be treated in best possible means whereever, rich or poor. What you suggested might make sense in chicken farms but not in the human world. There is no "developed" or "undeveloped" in this matter.

CorruptUser wrote:In a developed country, curing a disease allows someone to continue contributing to society. But in the undeveloped world, especially parts of the world where you are just a few missed meals away from death, the story is a bit different. If the person dies of disease, there is more food to go around. If the person survives, there are now more people that need to eat, which results in someone "healthy" dying.

So I ask, what is the point in curing and/or treating diseases in the undeveloped world? The main diseases I have in mind are malaria and AIDS, as they kill millions a year, but there are plenty of other diseases to choose from.

Another point to consider is the Social Darwinist perspective, as vile as that may be. Curing illnesses may mean there is no significant advantage to having a more effective immune system. It is possible that the immune system will become a DEFECT, as you are wasting valuable proteins and calories on unneeded bodily functions. Take into account all the harmful mutations that are not 'eliminated', and, well, you probably know where this is going. I shouldn't complain too much, as I would not have survived infancy without modern medicine (I won't go into too much detail), but it is something to consider.



You could argue the diseased person may have been the next Stephen Hawking, but the same argument could be made for the "healthy" person that now starves to death. Or you could point out that the person may have been the next Stalin (I use him, because he survived smallpox).

I do see the point in eradicating diseases, but only in that it prevents the disease from spreading to parts of the world where curing someone doesn't cause someone else to starve.

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Re: What will curing diseases actually accomplish?

Postby Izawwlgood » Fri Sep 24, 2010 5:55 pm UTC

I was a pretty sickly child, and was on heavy antibiotics on more than a few occasions to save my puny infant self. A few years ago I worked on elucidating an unknown aspect of cytoskeletal dynamics that may have implications in a number of cell applications.

You never know what people will do with their lives.

To echo what some others have said, we are the dominant intelligence on this planet, and one of the steps towards fully embracing that means having better control over what threatens our lives. Early man killed off Sabertooth Tigers and pushed dangerous wild animals away; eradicating disease is no different.
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Re: What will curing diseases actually accomplish?

Postby CorruptUser » Sat Sep 25, 2010 3:17 am UTC

Alright, I see the points people are making here. Especially ImagingGeek's insights. So yes, I'll agree that curing diseases truly will benefit the undeveloped world.

Now the issue is actually curing the diseases...

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Re: What will curing diseases actually accomplish?

Postby zookap » Tue Sep 28, 2010 3:35 am UTC

"If the person dies of disease, there is more food to go around. If the person survives, there are now more people that need to eat, which results in someone "healthy" dying."

I don't think it's accurate to say that a sick person surviving means a healthy person will go hungry. If you look at history, the more people there are on earth the lower the starvation and sickness rates. Curing disease to save a life really won't harm us evolutionarily. We don't need to go crazy to wipe out a cold or even the flu or pneumonia but other diseases should be fought. It is a good think that smallpox and polio are of the past.

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Re: What will curing diseases actually accomplish?

Postby ddxxdd » Wed Oct 06, 2010 3:26 am UTC

zookap wrote:"If the person dies of disease, there is more food to go around. If the person survives, there are now more people that need to eat, which results in someone "healthy" dying."

I don't think it's accurate to say that a sick person surviving means a healthy person will go hungry. If you look at history, the more people there are on earth the lower the starvation and sickness rates.


It's about time that someone called out the Malthusian nature of the OP's argument. Malthus was a very old economist who stated that the population of the world has always stayed constant due to limited resources. When the population rose, he states, it would eventually fall by plague (such as the Black Death) and starvation (such as with the peasants of France). But once the population fell too much, as he continues, then an abundance of food and shelter would cause the people of the world to live happy and make more babies.

Unfortunately, as soon as he remarked on this observation, he was humiliated by the onset of the industrial revolution. England and America have shunted their economies away from the everybody-is-a-farmer model, and people started specializing in narrow fields and exchanging their goods and services in the marketplace, making them far, far more efficient. Nowadays there is much, much more specialization and exchange. While a small percentage of people become farmers, growing vast amounts of food with high-tech tractors and chemically enhanced fertilizer, others work on assembly lines creating cars for all of us. Seamstresses, engineers, programmers, philosophers, metallurgists, chemists; the list of occupations are endless. When another person is born, there is even more potential for specialization, and so there is an even greater chance for each person to have more productive capacity.

With a demonstratable correlation between population and GDP per capita, I'd say that we should not debate whether keeping people alive will strain the food supply. Rather, the debate should consist of the opportunity cost of curing a disease (i.e. will the benefits of an additional workers outweigh the billions of dollars that it costs to cure a disease?).
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Re: What will curing diseases actually accomplish?

Postby King Author » Wed Oct 06, 2010 1:59 pm UTC

CorruptUser wrote:Alright, people that survive but become crippled from a disease are certainly a drain on their societies. But that is what happens to people with AIDS. The ones who receive treatment anyway. The AIDS cocktail drugs don't work like your once a day vitamin; they have some very nasty common side-effects.

A cripple can't contribute to society? No person who was severely handicapped ever contributed anything to any society?

You're right though. The human species would benefit if all diseased, incapacitated, mentally retarded and incurably criminal people were culled. Knocking people off once they get too old to be of any use would help, too. But it just seems too heartless. Plus, look at freaking Stephen Hawking -- not only healthy, muscular, good-looking, genetically-superior people contribute to society.

zookap wrote:"If the person dies of disease, there is more food to go around. If the person survives, there are now more people that need to eat, which results in someone "healthy" dying."

I don't think it's accurate to say that a sick person surviving means a healthy person will go hungry. If you look at history, the more people there are on earth the lower the starvation and sickness rates. Curing disease to save a life really won't harm us evolutionarily. We don't need to go crazy to wipe out a cold or even the flu or pneumonia but other diseases should be fought. It is a good think that smallpox and polio are of the past.

If you look at history, the more fast food restaurants that have cropped up, the more money has been donated to charity worldwide. But neither that nor the bolded passage from you means anything. Sickness and starvation have declined as a result of improved technology, not increased population.
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Re: What will curing diseases actually accomplish?

Postby mmmcannibalism » Fri Oct 08, 2010 9:47 pm UTC

A cripple can't contribute to society? No person who was severely handicapped ever contributed anything to any society?

You're right though. The human species would benefit if all diseased, incapacitated, mentally retarded and incurably criminal people were culled. Knocking people off once they get too old to be of any use would help, too. But it just seems too heartless. Plus, look at freaking Stephen Hawking -- not only healthy, muscular, good-looking, genetically-superior people contribute to society.


The point would be that in general, and especially the less industrial you are; the more harm being crippled is going to cause. If we were a farming society then (for instance) hawking being brilliant wouldn't be worth the food used on him.
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Re: What will curing diseases actually accomplish?

Postby King Author » Tue Oct 12, 2010 10:18 am UTC

mmmcannibalism wrote:The point would be that in general, and especially the less industrial you are; the more harm being crippled is going to cause. If we were a farming society then (for instance) hawking being brilliant wouldn't be worth the food used on him.

And I would argue that that's an invalid point. CorruptUser was saying that cripples are necessarily a drain. You can justify it with a specific instance in which it's true, however, I don't think you've given one -- you can't say that Hawking being brilliant wouldn't be worth the food wasted on him in a subsistance-farming society. How do you know he couldn't conceive of a way to improve their farming and increase their yield?

The "a crippled person is more of a drain than a healthy person" argument simply isn't valid. Most of the inventions, concepts and innovations that have lead us to where we are right now in history (WiFi internet, sophisticated ability to combat disease, limited starvation, growing world population) came from people who, under even broad, generous specifics of a "kill all non-healthy people" system would have been culled. Lest we forget, humans mucked about for 300,000,000 years before out last 6,000. This was, of course, due to many factors, but one big one was that the "weak" were culled for us by nature. Only once we got the technology to take our survival into our own hands and decide for ourselves who lives and who dies did we really get the ball rolling.

Hell, the ancient Greeks had begun to master steam power before they were wiped out. Granted, they mostly used their knowledge of steam power to trick random idiots on the street into believing their religion was true through "miracles" such as moving statues or automatic doors, but if they'd lasted long enough, they'd've probably invented the steam engine -- hundreds of years B.C.E.! Imagine where we could be right now.

Did that seem like a tangent? Because it wasn't. As soon as you decide it's acceptable to "kill all non-healthies," you're going to start extrapolating that out. If we cull non-healthy individuals for the betterment of the whole, why not cull non-healthy families? Neighborhoods? Cities? Races? Nations?

All that is to say that "cull first, ask questions later" is untenable, any way you play it. It seems logical, it seems like the ultimate expression of utilitarianism, but it's simply not, because healthy people, at any level of sophistication, from a tribal society to an industrialized one, are not guaranteed to be more contributory and productive than anyone you might exclude from that list.
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Re: What will curing diseases actually accomplish?

Postby pollywog » Tue Oct 12, 2010 10:17 pm UTC

I dunno. Maybe all curing all diseases around the world will do is give billions of people a more enjoyable life, or one that isn't absolute shit, or short. That's worth a lot to me.
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Re: What will curing diseases actually accomplish?

Postby CorruptUser » Wed Oct 13, 2010 5:07 am UTC

1) We already concluded that yes, curing diseases will truly benefit Africa. I was mostly for it to begin with, had some serious doubts about what the end results would be, and so I asked the question; 'what will it actually accomplish?'. I presented some negative scenarios that seemed possible (at least in my mind). I had my own reasonings, and wanted an outside mind(s) to compare with, in case they know or understand something I don't. Which many did. This is how you are supposed to reason; you may have theories but you must always ask questions. This world is too complex for simplistic and vague generalizations.

2) Even if a crippled person still contributes to society, chances are it is less than the contribution he/she would have made without the disability. The difference could be the amount of extra surgeries the person must have. It could be the cost of a single motorized wheelchair. It could be the cost from an advanced form of AIDS, where medication causes you to spend an entire hour vomiting every single day; imagine how much less you get accomplished missing an hour of your life, every single day.

Maybe I'm wrong, and there is some disability that gives you superpowers. Some disease that increases your health and strength. Some illness that increases your ability to learn new languages. Or maybe not?

Now add in a part of the world that doesn't have things like even the crudest of prosthetics. A person in the "West" that is missing a foot can still lead a normal life; even loggers can work with prosthetic limbs. Now imagine a logger in the undeveloped world with only 1 leg. Do you imagine him chopping much wood?

3) Malthusian? First of all, I'm of the belief that more people generally means more scientists which means faster technological advancement.
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In economics, Output = technology*(amount of workers^~.3)*(amount of capital^(1-~.3)), where capital is stuff such as factories, farms, bridges, etc. Technology is anything other than number of people and capital that affects production, from work ethic and education of the populace to industrial processes used. The ~.3 is the estimate for the modern world, though as more things become automated then that number should decrease. On a related note, Economic Majors, SAY HELLO TO YOUR THESIS TOPIC!


However, this more or less requires the local culture to be friendly to science. A culture that punishes or stifles advancement obviously won't produce very many scientists/scientific-achievement even if there are more people. Examples of this would be the Medieval Catholic Church and the Geocentric universe, any society that prevents any group from becoming educated, and so forth.

For example, 1 in 10 people is a Muslim woman. That means if all of the Islamic world prevents women from becoming scientists (which most but not all do), the entire world loses (or does not gain) 1 in 10 scientists. Assuming of course that a scientific mind has an equal chance to be born male or female. Long story short, if one group has higher variance in intelligence than the other, while having the same average intelligence, I'm sure anyone reading XKCD knows what that will mean.

4) I thought this thread would die after I came to my final conclusions. I guess people think I need further convincing...

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King Author
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Re: What will curing diseases actually accomplish?

Postby King Author » Wed Oct 13, 2010 3:43 pm UTC

CorruptUser wrote:2) Even if a crippled person still contributes to society, chances are it is less than the contribution he/she would have made without the disability. The difference could be the amount of extra surgeries the person must have. It could be the cost of a single motorized wheelchair. It could be the cost from an advanced form of AIDS, where medication causes you to spend an entire hour vomiting every single day; imagine how much less you get accomplished missing an hour of your life, every single day.

Maybe I'm wrong, and there is some disability that gives you superpowers. Some disease that increases your health and strength. Some illness that increases your ability to learn new languages. Or maybe not?

Now add in a part of the world that doesn't have things like even the crudest of prosthetics. A person in the "West" that is missing a foot can still lead a normal life; even loggers can work with prosthetic limbs. Now imagine a logger in the undeveloped world with only 1 leg. Do you imagine him chopping much wood?

There's no need to be facetious. The thing is, though, writing off cripples as "money sinks" is ignoring the fact that you don't have to be crippled to be a drain on society. Most people are more irresponsible with money than they'd like to be; they hurt themselves and they hurt their economy with poor choices. Also, things like buying wheelchairs and medical supplies actually contributes to the economy, by keeping medical companies (who pay HUGE taxes) in business. I really can't see how being cripple makes someone a drain on society.

CorruptUser wrote:4) I thought this thread would die after I came to my final conclusions. I guess people think I need further convincing...

No no no! Don't misunderstand -- this topic continues because it's an interesting subject.
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Re: What will curing diseases actually accomplish?

Postby savanik » Wed Oct 13, 2010 9:00 pm UTC

King Author wrote:Also, things like buying wheelchairs and medical supplies actually contributes to the economy, by keeping medical companies (who pay HUGE taxes) in business. I really can't see how being cripple makes someone a drain on society.


It seems like I can't throw a rock without hitting somebody's window these days.

This is the classic broken window argument, e.g. if we just go around breaking people's legs, then everyone will have to have wheelchairs! The economy will boom! The fact is that the money that is spent on wheelchairs or medical supplies could be better spent elsewhere, if people were healthy enough not to need them.

Take, for example, polio. Just before the polio vaccine was created, there were good odds (1 in 20 if I recall properly?) that you would end up with a case of polio and would die without significant medical intervention. Even if you lived, you would likely suffer severe physical problems for the rest of your life. As such, I would consider the vaccine of vastly more importance than the supportive care after the fact. With the vaccine, polio has been virtually eliminated in the U.S. Instead of 5% of our population being crippled, they're now healthy, productive members of society. Polio is a disease very much worth curing.

On the other hand, there are diseases that have distinctly genetic characteristics, inheritable from your parents. The classic example would be diabetes. It can be mitigated somewhat through lifestyle or diet, but without retroviral engineering, these people will always have this disease. Even if we treat the symptoms, the underlying causes are broken, malformed biochemistry. They will pass this on to any children they have. The supportive costs add up over time. If we could instead cure these individuals with a single treatment, right down to their DNA, society could save vast amounts of resources that could be used elsewhere more effectively.

In summary, curing disease will accomplish a great deal. Unfortunately, many people think that treating disease accounts for the same thing, and nothing could be further from the truth.
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Re: What will curing diseases actually accomplish?

Postby mister k » Thu Oct 14, 2010 1:10 pm UTC

CorruptUser wrote:
2) Even if a crippled person still contributes to society, chances are it is less than the contribution he/she would have made without the disability. The difference could be the amount of extra surgeries the person must have. It could be the cost of a single motorized wheelchair. It could be the cost from an advanced form of AIDS, where medication causes you to spend an entire hour vomiting every single day; imagine how much less you get accomplished missing an hour of your life, every single day.


I spend a large portion of my day doing nothing, because I'm lazy. Perhaps illness would actually push me to get more done. Not all hours are productive ones. Its probably true that disabled people (can we use that term instead please) are, on average, less productive than abled people, but I suspect the difference is less than you'd imagine. Humans can actually adapt a lot.
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Re: What will curing diseases actually accomplish?

Postby savanik » Thu Oct 14, 2010 2:52 pm UTC

mister k wrote:I spend a large portion of my day doing nothing, because I'm lazy.


Nonsense, laziness isn't a medical condition. If you're not functioning like everyone else, there must be something fundamentally wrong with you that the medical industry can treat. I suspect depression. You should take these psychogenic drugs for the rest of your life. They're called 'prescription amphetamines' and will fill you with energy until the day you die.
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Re: What will curing diseases actually accomplish?

Postby Patashu » Wed Oct 20, 2010 3:29 am UTC

elasto wrote:The best long term forms of aid are probably micro-loans and investment in infrastructure (water, power, roads, school buildings, mobile phone masts and such) anyway, and other forms of aid should be strictly short-term in nature and sourced regionally if at all possible.

I want to comment on this, even though it's not the focus of the topic. The enormous rates of return that micro finance industries demand - roughly 80% - can easily impoverish those in the third world. Should they slip and be unable to pay back, there's no way they'll ever reign it in. Those in the third world with enough steady credit to be able to safely take such a loan would progress fine without it, too!
http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/new ... 755644.cms
http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas ... t_poverty/
http://www.povertyactionlab.org/sites/d ... inance.pdf

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Re: What will curing diseases actually accomplish?

Postby Vaniver » Fri Oct 22, 2010 9:32 pm UTC

Patashu wrote:I want to comment on this, even though it's not the focus of the topic. The enormous rates of return that micro finance industries demand - roughly 80% - can easily impoverish those in the third world. Should they slip and be unable to pay back, there's no way they'll ever reign it in. Those in the third world with enough steady credit to be able to safely take such a loan would progress fine without it, too!
http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/new ... 755644.cms
http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas ... t_poverty/
http://www.povertyactionlab.org/sites/d ... inance.pdf
While the first article is horrifying, I don't find either of the other two convincing. Great economic growth is 4% a year. If microcredit made it so growth went from stagnant to 4% a year, it would be barely perceptible over two years.

From the actual article text, this is what microcredit is doing:
However, there are shifts in the composition of expenditure: column 3 shows that households in treatment areas spend a statistically signi…cant Rs 22 more per capita per month on durables than do households in comparison areas–Rs 138 vs. Rs 116. Further, when focusing on spending on durable goods used in a household business (column 4), the difference is even more striking: households in treatment areas on average spend more than twice as much on durables used in a household business, Rs 12 per capita per month in treatment vs. Rs. 5 in comparison.
Column 5 shows that the increase in durables spending by treatment households was partially offset by reduced spending on “temptation goods”: alcohol, tobacco, betel leaves, gambling, and food consumed outside the home. Spending on temptation goods is reduced by Rs 9 per capita per month.
That doesn't look like much over 2 years, but that is life-changing stuff right there. To quote Terry Prachett:
The reason that the rich were so rich...was because they managed to spend less money. Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots,...cost about ten dollars. But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that'd still be keeping his feet dry in ten years' time, while a poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet. This was the Captain Samuel Vimes 'Boots' theory of socio-economic unfairness.
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