The expert vs. the common man
In Hong Kong last week it was Nobel Prize economist Amartya Sen doing the sounding off, praising the state medical system in China under the Cultural Revolution. Mr. Sen asserted that Maoist China had actually made great strides in medicine, bringing down child mortality rates and prolonging life expectancy. Moving to a privatized system was making the system less fair and efficient, said the Nobel laureate, who's behind many U.N. economic works, such as the much-heralded "Human Development Index."Theory often loses to practice. You would think that intelligent folks with Ph.D's would learn this, sooner or later.
To back up his remarkable claim, Mr. Sen said that the rate of growth in life expectancy in China was slowing down. Or at least it was doing so compared to India, which is catching up with China in life expectancy. "The gap between India and China has gone from 14 years to seven [since 1979] because of moving from a Canada-like system to a U.S. like system," said Mr. Sen, adding that he thought this change by China was a mistake.
But, alas, there was someone in the audience who actually had lived through the Cultural Revolution in China, and had been one of Mao's "barefoot doctors." He didn't see things quite the same way as Mr. Sen. In fact, he said the comments had quite surprised him.
"I observed with my own eyes the total absence of medicine in some parts of China. The system was totally unsustainable. We used to admire India," said Weijian Shan, now a banker in Hong Kong. Mr. Shan then added an anecdote that tickled the audience, telling how when he first visited Taiwan in the 1980s and saw young medical school graduates serving in the countryside, he thought to himself, "China ought to copy Taiwan."
Mr. Shan added, about Mao's medicine, "If they had made the system optional, nobody would have opted for it."
But you'd be wrong.