Book: The Body Economic, Why Austerity Kills

Tony Gosling tony at
Sun Mar 9 13:12:31 GMT 2014

The Body Economic by David Stuckler, MPH, PhD and Sanjay Basu, MD, PhD


Politicians have talked endlessly about the 
seismic economic and social impacts of the Great 
Recession, but many continue to ignore its 
disastrous effects on human health­and have even 
exacerbated them, by adopting harsh austerity 
measures and cutting key social programs at a 
time when constituents need them most. The 
result, as pioneering public health experts David 
Stuckler and Sanjay Basu reveal in this 
provocative book, is that many countries have 
turned their recessions into veritable epidemics, 
ruining or extinguishing thousands of lives in a 
misguided attempt to balance budgets and shore up 
financial markets. Yet sound alternative policies 
could instead help improve economies and protect 
public health at the same time.

In The Body Economic, Stuckler and Basu mine data 
from around the globe and throughout history to 
show how government policy becomes a matter of 
life and death during financial crises. In a 
series of historical case studies stretching from 
1930s America, to Russia and Indonesia in the 
1990s, to present-day Greece, Britain, Spain, and 
the U.S., Stuckler and Basu reveal that political 
mismanagement of financial crises has resulted in 
a grim array of human tragedies, from suicides to 
HIV infections to West Nile Virus and 
tuberculosis epidemics. Yet people can and do 
stay healthy, and even get healthier, during 
downturns. During the Great Depression, U.S. 
deaths actually plummeted, and today Iceland, 
Norway, and Japan are happier and healthier than 
ever, proof that financial shocks do not 
inevitably wreak havoc on public health.

Full of shocking and counter intuitive 
revelations and bold policy recommendations,The 
Body Economic offers an alternative to 
austerity­one that will prevent widespread 
suffering, both now and in the future.

a clip about the book from Democracy Now! featuring the authors.


“[Stuckler and Basu] make a convincing case for 
the deleterious effects of austerity policies and 
suggest an alternative approach that would prevent such widespread suffering.”
­Paul D. Cleary, Dean, Yale School of Public 
Health, summer reading recommendations

“Austerity kills – and on a grand scale. So argue 
David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu in The Body 
Economic, a powerful attack on efforts to curb 
public spending since the financial crisis, which 
holds belt-tightening politicians responsible for 
a health catastrophe.... [B]y telling the stories 
of individual victims of austerity as well as 
analyzing its impact at the population level, 
Stuckler and Basu provide a wealth of evidence 
that it is bad for our health. That is a valuable 
contribution to the current debate.”
­Clive Cookson, Financial Times

“Stuckler and Basu provide a capable summary of 
the basic problems with austerity economics as 
economics, but their signal contribution in this 
book is to focus on the health effects of 
austerity.... [T]hey find that, the more 
austerity was practiced in a state or country, 
the more people got sick and the more people 
died. In short, ‘Austerity Kills’ is more than 
just a slogan. Austerity doesn’t work as 
economics, and it kills people in the bargain.”
­Ruy Teixeira, The New Republic

“What price a healthy stock market? In this 
stringent economic analysis, sociologist David 
Stuckler and epidemiologist Sanjay Basu argue 
that during a recession, austerity-based cuts to 
social spending erode public health.... A 
sobering call for democratic, informed choices in response to recession.”

“Meticulously researched and richly annotated, 
The Body Economic is nonetheless a very 
accessible and engaging book. The authors succeed 
admirably in making the case that downsizing (or 
dismantling) the social safety nets that exist to 
protect those in need directly leads to increased 
sickness and death within the general 
population.... Stuckler and Basu persuasively 
demonstrate that economic austerity adversely 
affects the health of all citizens, and not just 
of those who directly rely upon 
government-provided services.... Stuckler and 
Basu have done us a great service by leaving 
ideology aside and presenting for us the 
consequences that these decisions have had for 
others and may have for us as well.... The 
lessons contained within The Body Economic should 
be carefully considered by both policy makers and 
constituents, so we can avoid the tragic results 
seen in places where ideology and doctrine were 
allowed to trump one of the most basic principles 
of a functioning society: the implicit 
understanding that its members need to look out 
for one another in times of need.”
­Boston Globe

“The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills, is a 
powerful indictment of the unnecessary suffering 
and rising mortality rates associated with 
austerity policies unsoftened by remedial social 
programmes. I hope the finance ministers read it, 
and try mixing with the ordinary people, who are 
the only ones who can bring about economic recovery.”
­Harry Eyres, Financial Times

“[W]ell-written and engaging.... Stuckler & Basu 
make a convincing case that the austerity 
currently being implemented around the world is 
driven more by a political ideology that rejects 
the very notion of ’big government’ than any 
particular evidence. Indeed, the evidence they 
present almost universally supports their 
conclusion that austerity is bad for economic 
recovery and bad for public health.”
­Jean Adams, PLOS Blogs, Speaking of Medicine

“[The Body Economic] is an admirable work, 
eminently readable and yet without skimping on rigorous analysis.”
­The Progressive

“In The Body Economic, David Stuckler and Sanjay 
Basu lay out in stark terms what the recession 
and the economic policies chosen to deal with it 
have done – or failed to do – for human health in 
countries around the world.... Throughout the 
book, Stuckler and Basu rely on economic studies, 
most of them subjected to peer review, to 
underline a critical point: public health is 
economic health. Far from being the ‘luxury’ the 
IMF categorizes it as, public health spending is 
in fact necessary to the economic recovery of a 
country in recession. The Body Economic makes the 
point in stark and accessible terms..... [A] 
thoroughly researched look into the effects of 
austerity policies on public health.”
­Shelf Awareness for Readers

“[A] startling new book.... From mining data sets 
over the past century across the world, the 
numbers show the hidden cost of health spending cuts.”
­Metro New York

“[Stuckler and Basu] wear their expertise and 
statistical knowledge lightly, opting to deliver 
their research findings in a jazzy, casual 
tone.... The real power of the book lies in the 
epidemiological insight that it’s possible to 
think about medicine not in the exclusive terms 
of the individual patient’s life, but by tracking 
the conditions that affect health throughout society.”

“[A] disturbing new book by two public-health 
experts [that] documents the human toll of 
austerity measures – a viewpoint too often 
overlooked in the bloodless discussion of stabilizing fiscal balances.”
­Darrell Delamaide, MarketWatch

“Drs. Stuckler and Basu take a rigorous, 
insightful, and approachable look at the 
mountains of data that have accumulated as a 
result of the large-scale austerity experiment. 
Building off a growing academic literature, they 
build a strong case for the subtitle of their 
book: that austerity both suppresses economic 
growth and decimates population health.”
­Duncan Maru, Global Health Hub

“As the subtitle suggests, the authors argue that 
the choice between stimulus and austerity, in 
response to an economic shock, can literally be 
one between life and death.... The central point 
made by Stuckler and Basu is that the health 
effects of economic shocks are not immutable.... 
Reflecting their background in public health, 
Stuckler and Basu present the adoption or 
rejection of austerity policies as a clinical 
trial, one in which we have all been enrolled 
without any requirement for informed consent, and 
arguably, at least, without any meaningful 
consent at all.... Stuckler and Basu make a 
persuasive case.... The results are clear: Austerity really is bad for us.”
­John Quiggin, Chronicle Review

“This informative book will add important 
perspective to the ongoing debate on the consequences of economic policies.”

“A dramatic study emphasizing some of the 
combined consequences of ideological obsessions 
and bureaucratic thoughtlessness.”
­Kirkus Reviews

“Public health experts David Stuckler and Dr. 
Sanjay Basu draw on data from the Great 
Depression through the collapse of Communism and 
the Asian meltdown of the ‘90s to the ongoing 
European financial crises to argue that when it 
comes to your health, it’s not just the economic 
downturn, but what your government does about it. 
Some of the findings are grim.”
­Toronto Star (Canada)

“[T]his is a readable book with a compassionate 
tone. The inclusion of stories about ordinary 
individuals affected by austerity lends it a 
poignancy not typically found in economics literature.”
­Iain Morris, The Observer (UK)

“After three years of deep cuts, few Britons 
would dispute that austerity is painful – whether 
or not they share ministers’ belief that it is 
the cure for our economic ills. But David 
Stuckler and Sanjay Basu’s claim is more 
shocking: that such policies are literally 
killing us, and that the Government knows it.... 
The authors’ conclusion: it is not recession or 
even joblessness that makes people sicker but the 
official response to austerity.”
­Andrew Neather, The Evening Standard (UK)

“Far too many books are described as ‘seminal’ 
but The Body Economic: How Austerity Kills, by 
David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu, really could 
be.... There are three reasons for supposing the 
book will have a huge impact. First, timing: it 
adds intellectual ballast to Keynesians when 
they’re already ahead. Second, Stuckler himself. 
A terrifyingly prolific young academic with more 
than 100 published articles, he is softly spoken, 
looks like the absent fourth member of Green Day, 
and is coveted by Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard. 
Third, approach. Stuckler and Basu are in the van 
of a movement to recast economics as a matter of 
life and death. That’s what ‘health outcomes’ 
really means.... [W]e should organize a massive 
lovebombing of Treasury and IMF officials with copies of The Body Economic.”
­Amol Rajan, The Evening Standard (UK)

“[Stuckler’s] explosive, backed by a 
decade of research, and based on reams of 
publicly available data.... In a powerful new 
book, The Body Economic, Stuckler and his 
colleague Sanjay that austerity is 
now having a ‘devastating effect’ on public 
health in Europe and North America.”
­Jon Henly, The Guardian (UK)

“The Great Recession’s visible 
costs­bankruptcies, foreclosures, unemployment, 
government deficits­and their still-lingering 
effects are chillingly well-known. Less 
understood are the health consequences­the 
suicides, epidemics, and soaring mortality 
rates­that represent the most intimate human 
effects not just of our global financial collapse 
but also of the mistaken austerity programs that 
have followed. The Body Economic is required 
reading for anyone who wants to see how bad 
politics and worse policies have worsened 
suffering around the world when, by any 
democratic measure, our common obligation is to end suffering.”
­Richard Parker, Lecturer in Public Policy and 
Senior Fellow, Shorenstein Center at Harvard 
Kennedy School, and author of John Kenneth 
Galbraith: His Life, His Politics, His Economics

“The Body Economic is must reading for anyone who 
wants to understand the real life consequences of 
governments making the wrong policy decisions in 
response to the worst economic disruption since 
the Great Depression.  In a debate too often 
dominated by ideology, Stuckler and Basu bring a 
refreshing, evidence-based perspective to the 
table. And, they present their case­that an 
obsession with austerity hurts both economies and 
people­in an accessible, personal way. This isn’t 
a story about spreadsheets and algorithms­it’s 
about the ordinary people who pay the ultimate 
price for their government’s cavalier ideological obsessions.”
­Darrell J. Bricker, CEO, Ipsos Public Affairs, 
and author of The Big Shift: The Seismic Change 
in Canadian Politics, Business, and Culture and What It Means for Our Future

“The Body Economic is a bold synthesis of 
quantitative data, historical cases, personal 
narratives, and sociological and clinically 
informed analyses about the effects of investing, 
or failing to invest, in public health safety 
nets. In investigating the causes of adverse 
health outcomes in populations from the United 
States to the Soviet Union to Greece, Iceland, 
and the UK, David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu expose 
many of the myths and mystifications that prop up 
the regnant ideologies of fiscal austerity. 
Stuckler and Basu revive the great, progressive 
tradition of social medicine. Their work is 
important not just for all those who deliver 
health care services, but also for anyone who 
might, just might, one day be a patient.”
­Paul Farmer, MD, PhD, Kolokotrones University 
Professor, Harvard Medical School, and Founding Director, Partners in Health

“A powerful and important contribution to our 
future. Stuckler and Basu use statistics not to 
dehumanize people, but to bring them to life.”
­Ha-Joon Chang, PhD, Faculty of Economics, 
Cambridge University, and author of 23 Things 
They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism  
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