Miscellaneous Public Policy

Crisis of Abundance Conference

On August 29th, 2006 there will be a book forum discussing The Crisis of Abundance by Arnold Kling.  While I have not yet read this book, I do respect Mr. Kling’s work and am anxious to see him discuss his views in this type of setting.  The book made the top 10 list of the National Chamber Foundation (the educational arm of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce).  Also attending the forum will be Michael Cannon, director of Health Policy Studies at the Cato Institute; Jason Furman, a Visiting Scholar at NYU; and Sebastian Mallaby, Editorial Writer and Columnist for the Washington Post.  For those not in Washington, D.C. area, the conference will be available online as well. 

The conference takes place on August 29th at noon ET.  For more specifics, click here.

Below is an excerpt from chapter one of Crisis of Abundance:

My guess is that 30 years ago, a patient with similar symptoms would have been treated “empirically,â€? a term doctors use to describe a situation for which they do not have a precise diagnosis and treatment, so that instead they must use guesswork. A layman’s synonym for treated empirically would be “trial and error.â€? In this case, the patient might have been sent home with an antibiotic and perhaps a prescription for Prednisone, a steroid used to reduce inflammation. There would have been nothing else to do. In 1975, computerized medical imaging technology was new and exotic, with limited applications.

In contrast, in 2005, over the course of a few days Quixote was given a computed tomography (CT) scan, referred to a specialist, sent to a different hospital, referred to a specialty clinic, seen by a battery of specialists there, and given yet another CT scan. Ultimately, however, she was sent home, as she might have been 30 years ago, with an antibiotic, Prednisone, and no firm diagnosis.

Compared with 30 years ago, Quixote received more services, in the form of specialist consultations and high-tech diagnostics. However, the ultimate treatment and outcome were no different. This does not mean that medicine is no better today than it was a generation ago. The CT scans and specialist consultations could have turned out differently. They might have been critically important, depending on her actual condition. Under some circumstances, treating Quixote empirically with an antibiotic and Prednisone could have been a mistake, perhaps costing some or all of her sight in one eye.

Such is modern medicine in the United States. Doctors are able to take extra precautions. They can use more specialized knowledge and better technology to try to pin down the diagnosis. They can perform tests to rule out improbable but dangerous conditions. But only in a minority of cases does the outcome deviate from what would have been the case 30 years ago.

An interview with Arnold Kling is also available at TCS Daily (“To much of a good thing?“).