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No Measly Achievement

Posted By Don Boudreaux On March 22, 2005 @ 8:03 am In Standard of Living | Comments Disabled

Buried in the lower left-hand corner of page A13 in today’s New York Times is this small item from Reuters’ news service; I quote it in its entirety (no link available):

No More Rubella   Rubella, a virus that once caused tens of thousands of birth defects and deaths in a single outbreak, has been eliminated from the United States, health officials say.  But Americans must still vaccinate their children, and pregnant women must still ensure they are immune because the disease exists elsewhere, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.  The agency said that in 2004, nine rubella case were reported in the United States, all originating in other countries.  Rubella, also known as German measles, is a usually mild viral infection that causes fever and rash, but early in pregnancy it can cause birth defects.

Eliminating rubella from our midst isn’t quite as significant as the earlier elimination of small pox, or of the virtual elimination of polio.  But it is surely very good news.  Thousands upon thousands of people who otherwise would suffer their whole lives with birth defects are, because of this achievement, enjoying lives that are normal and healthy.  This news is wonderful indeed.

But who are these people?  No one knows.  They themselves don’t know.  They’re just ordinary people like you and me, with their own joys and concerns, who haven’t the slightest idea that they would have been victims of rubella had this virus not been eliminated from our population.

And how does this achievement show up in official measures of our standard of living?  How do the now-oh-so-hip ‘happiness studies [1]‘ measure our benefit from this achievement?

Our prosperity pool [2] is today several drops more full than it was just a few years ago when some Americans still contracted rubella.

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[1] happiness studies: http://www.happiness.org/Resources/Happiness_Studies.aspx

[2] prosperity pool: http://cafehayek.com/2004/06/the_prosperity_.html

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