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The rise of neoliberalism: how bad economics imperils health and what to do about it


The 2008 global financial crisis, precipitated by high-risk, under-regulated financial practices, is often seen as a singular event. The crisis, its recessionary consequences, bank bailouts and the adoption of ‘austerity’ measures can be seen as a continuation of a 40-year uncontrolled experiment in neoliberal economics. Although public spending and recapitalisation of failing banks helped prevent a 1930s-style Great Depression, the deep austerity measures that followed have stifled a meaningful recovery for the majority of populations. In the short term, these austerity measures, especially cuts to health and social protection systems, pose major health risks in those countries under its sway. Meanwhile structural changes to the global labour market, increasing under-employment in high-income countries and economic insecurity elsewhere, are likely to widen health inequities in the longer term. We call for four policy reforms to reverse rising inequalities and their harms to public health. First is re-regulating global finance. Second is rejecting austerity as an empirically and ethically unjustified policy, especially given now clear evidence of its deleterious health consequences. Third, there is a need to restore progressive taxation at national and global scales. Fourth is a fundamental shift away from the fossil fuel economy and policies that promote economic growth in ways that imperil environmental sustainability. This involves redistributing work and promoting fairer pay. We do not suggest these reforms will be politically feasible or even achievable in the short term. They nonetheless constitute an evidence-based agenda for strong, public health advocacy and practice.

  • Health inequalities

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