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Figures don't lie, but liars can figure

By Thomas E. Brewton
web posted November 5, 2007

Is Paul Krugman at it again?

Whose statistics are the right ones?

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman is not in doubt.  In his November 2 column he writes:

“My chance of surviving prostate cancer — and thank God I was cured of it — in the United States? Eighty-two percent,” says Rudy Giuliani in a new radio ad attacking Democratic plans for universal health care. “My chances of surviving prostate cancer in England? Only 44 percent, under socialized medicine.”...

Let’s start with the facts: Mr. Giuliani’s claim is wrong on multiple levels — bogus numbers wrapped in an invalid comparison embedded in a smear.

Mr. Giuliani got his numbers from a recent article in City Journal, a publication of the conservative Manhattan Institute. The author gave no source for his numbers on five-year survival rates — the probability that someone diagnosed with prostate cancer would still be alive five years after the diagnosis. And they’re just wrong.

You see, the actual survival rate in Britain is 74.4 percent. That still looks a bit lower than the U.S. rate, but the difference turns out to be mainly a statistical illusion. The details are technical, but the bottom line is that a man’s chance of dying from prostate cancer is about the same in Britain as it is in America.

So Mr. Giuliani’s supposed killer statistic about the defects of “socialized medicine” is entirely false. In fact, there’s very little evidence that Americans get better health care than the British, which is amazing given the fact that Britain spends only 41 percent as much on health care per person as we do.</i>

In contrast, a MedScape Medical News report, dated August 22, 2007, is headlined "Cancer Survival Rates Improving Across Europe, But Still Lagging Behind United States."

The article states:

New reports from EUROCARE suggest that cancer care in Europe is improving and that the gaps between countries are narrowing. However, comparisons with US statistics suggest that cancer survival in Europe is still lagging behind the United States. The reports are published online August 21 in Lancet Oncology and scheduled for the September issue...

The United Kingdom in particular comes out badly in the tables, showing cancer survival rates that are among the worst in Europe. The findings suggest that the national cancer plan for England, which began in 2000, is not working, a second editorial comments...

Survival was significantly higher in the United States for all solid tumors, except testicular, stomach, and soft-tissue cancer, the authors report. The greatest differences were seen in the major cancer sites: colon and rectum (56.2% in Europe vs 65.5% in the United States), breast (79.0% vs 90.1%), and prostate cancer (77.5% vs 99.3%), and this "probably represents differences in the timeliness of diagnosis," they comment. That in turn stems from the more intensive screening for cancer carried out in the United States, where a reported 70% of women aged 50 to 70 years have undergone a mammogram in the past 2 years, one-third of people have had sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy in the past 5 years, and more than 80% of men aged 65 years or more have had a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. In fact, it is this PSA testing that probably accounts for the very high survival from prostate cancer seen in the United States, the authors comment.

What seems not to be in doubt is that, whatever statistics one uses, prostate cancer survival rates are measurably higher in the United States.

The lower level of PSA testing in the UK is an unavoidable consequence of the very nature of socialized medicine, as the British discovered at the outset of it nationalized health service after World War II.  Just as the French found after instituting socialism following the 1789 Revolution, social justice under socialism is based on the theory of meeting everyone's needs, without regard to personal circumstances, abilities, or work contribution.  What in practice happens is that demand for "free" goods and services has no limit, as it is based on desire, not need.

The study of economics came into being because of the observable truth that the demand for any good or service that people want is always greater than the supply.  The only effective way to balance supply and demand is free-market pricing.  As demand exceeds supply, prices rise until only people truly needing the desideratum will be willing to pay the price.

The income and wealth of any society is no more than the volume of useful goods and services it produces.  When people work productively, society’s wealth increases.  Under socialism, of which a "national health" plan is an example, social justice permits people who do not work to get equal shares, guaranteeing that supplies will have to be rationed. 

In Britain and Canada, where national health service expenses were rapidly outstripping tax revenues, socialist governments had to put a maximum limit on health service expenditures and leave it up to the hospitals and doctors to ration availabilities among patients. 

Mr. Krugman's brand of economics, however, appears to levitate somewhere above real world facts, like a sand castle built in mid air.  To credit his assertion that health care is better under socialized medicine is to ignore the floods of people coming to the United States from Canada to receive timely medical care. 

The facts of long wait times in the UK and Canada, both for routine medical care, and for major surgery, have been well publicized for  more than a decade.  Mr. Krugman's faith in the religion of socialism blinds him to reality. ESR

Thomas E. Brewton is a staff writer for the New Media Alliance, Inc. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets. His weblog is The View From 1776. Email comments to viewfrom1776@thomasbrewton.com.


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