Monday, May 01, 2017
The Complex Relationship Between Warfare and Healthcare
The United States stands alone in developed countries by not providing any form of government funded healthcare to its people. Although some part of this is due to philosophy (Americans are more inclined to believe that people make their own luck than people in other welfare states. It follows from this that those who do not have insurance could get it if only they worked a bit harder).
However, warfare, and how welfare states developed alongside it in the rest of the world plays an important part. European welfare states began in Prussia at the end of the 19th century, when wars with France required the mobilization of a huge number of people. Britain's welfare state can be traced back to the men who went to recruiting offices to fight during the Boer War but were not healthy enough to do so. Before WWII, Brits would have seen the creation of a government run healthcare service as an unwarranted intrusion into their personal affairs. After WWII, it seemed like a just reward for the millions who had suffered.
This relationship came too early in America for government run healthcare to emerge. The civil war was when the highest proportion of men were fighting (13% of the population). This was far too early to help spur the creation of a national healthcare system. In the wake of the civil war, the government broke the link between war and universal healthcare by treating ex servicemen differently from everyone else. In 1930, the Veterans Administration was set up to care for those who had served in the first world war. It has since become a single-payer system of government-run hospitals of the kind that many Americans associate with socialized medicine in Europe.
An interesting relationship, it will nevertheless take huge amounts of time to see whether American welfare will converge with the rest of the world, or whether it will stay distinctively odd.
For more information: The Economist March 18th-24th issue Pg 23.