Martin Khor

While political events will no doubt dominate the news in 2014, social issues such as health and environment and coping with the rising cost of living will be just as important in the new year.

Good health is the basis of everything else that is positive in life. Thus, a preview of key social issues in 2014 should begin with health.

In Malaysia, a major concern is the dramatic rise in dengue, with 39,222 cases in 2013, a 90% jump from a year before.

There is a re-emergence of the deadly human variety of avian flu, with 47 deaths from 147 cases in China coming from the new H7N9 strain in April-December last year.

A few years ago there was the expectation that a flu epidemic could sweep through the world, affecting millions of people. The flu pandemic in 2009 killed thousands of people, including in Mexico and Indonesia, but it was fortunately contained.
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Martin Khor

Are big companies making use of trade and investment agreements to challenge health policies?  Evidence is building up that they do so, with medicine prices going up and tobacco control measures being suppressed.

This issue came up in Parliament last week when International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapha Mohamed said the government would not allow the Trans- Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) to cause the prices of generic medicines to go up.

He added he would defend existing policies on patents and medicines, and if we don’t agree with some of the terms, we can choose not to sign.

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Arjun Jayadev

The Indian Supreme Court’s refusal to uphold the patent on Gleevec, the blockbuster cancer drug developed by the Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis, is good news for many of those in India suffering from cancer. If other developing countries follow India’s example, it will be good news elsewhere, too: more money could be devoted to other needs, whether fighting AIDS, providing education, or making investments that enable growth and poverty reduction.

But the Indian decision also means less money for the big multinational pharmaceutical companies. Not surprisingly, this has led to an overwrought response from them and their lobbyists: the ruling, they allege, destroys the incentive to innovate, and thus will deal a serious blow to public health globally.

Read more at Project Syndicate

Matias Vernengo

The World in 2013 by The Economist has been out for a while. Got it at the airport this weekend and read a few pieces. Really bad. Nothing new. One piece caught my attention though. On the fiscal cliff and the elections this terrible article says:

“Mr Obama will maintain that his victory, along with continued Democratic control of the Senate, constitute a mandate for his version of deficit reduction. But in fact the elections produced mixed results: Mr Obama narrowly won the popular vote and the Republicans retained their majority in the House of Representatives.”

First, facts; yes the GOP won the House, but Democratic House candidates won more of the popular vote than their Republican counterparts. Redistricting or Gerrymandering is what explains this failure of democracy. Dems probably need more than 55% of the popular vote to win the majority in the House.

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We are economists who think that the economy should serve people, the planet and the future.

The United States ranks first in the world in health care spending per person, but only 45th in life expectancy. The average American sees a doctor less often than the average Canadian, the average Briton, or the average resident of most industrial democracies. The average life expectancy of white Americans without a high school degree has fallen since 1990 by three years for men and five years for women.

This paradoxical combination of first-class costs and second-rate performance is a result of a multi-payer health care system whose enormous administrative bureaucracy absorbs nearly one-third of our health care dollars. The aim of this private bureaucracy is to police patients and doctors, not to add value or protect human health.

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Matías Vernengo

Today, the United States will choose between a moderate Republican, with a pro-business agenda, or Mitt Romney. Yes President Obama has saved the economy from a 1930s-like catastrophe with a smaller than necessary, but still very effective, fiscal package, and monetary easing has prevented a collapse of the banking and financial sector like the Great Depression one. Yet, his economic views and policies remain to the right of Richard Nixon. Obama agreed with Mr. Romney that government does not create jobs, and has accepted the anti-Keynesian rhetoric regarding the need of reducing the fiscal deficit, even though the recovery has been very slow.

If Obama wins (and I do believe that Nate Silver is right and his chances are greater than Romney’s) we should not simply expect a continuation of the current policies. Yes, Ben Bernanke will maintain interest rates close to zero in nominal terms and continue the gradual Quantitative Easing which, precluding a collapse of the euro and the flight to dollar denominated bonds, will lead to a more depreciated dollar. But the US cannot expect to grow through exports, particularly to developing countries like China (China bashing was one the silliest and most disingenuous issues raised during the campaign).

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Jeff Madrick

Lo and behold, Mitt Romney says he will now support parts of the Affordable Care Act, which the Republicans disdainfully call Obamacare. The Financial Times called it a u-turn. My prediction is that the word Obamacare will conjure up the same positive connotations as Medicare now does.

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