I was watching – ok, sort of – the 7.30 Report last night and there was a segment based on an Access Economics Report on the economic cost of combined deafness and blindness. It focused on a remarkable woman who had an inherited condition in which she had been born deaf and had become blind in her 20s.
All up, an interesting personal story. But then we were told that there are some quarter of a million Australians with combined deafness and blindness, and this number would increase to one million (time frame not mentioned). Mmmm, I thought, surely the numbers with the rare condition of the women shown in the program are very small. So who are these quarter of a million? And how old are they? Are they completely deaf and blind? And how are these projections arrived out – looks like a suspiciously high number into the future.
I have had my suspicions of these studies for some time. I went to the Access Economics website to discover that these sort of studies –
THE ECONOMIC COST AND IMPACT OF …….
are clearly a nice little earner for the group.
Some of the …. dealt with include:
- Hearing loss
- Youth mental illness
- Heart attack and chest pain
- Spinal cord injury and traumatic brain injury
- Otitis media
And the list goes on.
Adding up the estimated economic cost of all these conditions begins to exhaust the GDP, which suggests that the estimates of the economic costs are grossly exaggeraged for a number of reasons. This should not come as any surprise of course since the sole purpose of these studies – they have no academic credibility – is to provide RHETORIC to bolster the case for the RENT SEEKERS who are attempting to prize out additional taxpayer monies to support their particular activities, worthy though they may be.
One of the real problems with these studies is the double/triple/… counting associated with these studies as many people have multiple pathologies. Moreover, the projections of the numbers afflicted by these conditions in the future should be treated with a grain of salt (probably box).
These studies also conflict with the findings of the Productivity Commission in their work undertaken in relation to the National Reform Agenda. In large part because most people with chronic conditions manage to continue their working life, the PC’s estimates of the cost of most chronic conditions (including mental illness) are not especially high.
The interesting work of Eric Crampton at the Canterbury University – great paper delivered at the Mont Pelerin Society – also shows that government studies of the economic costs of alcohol use are grossly exaggerated. There are typically both conceptual and measurement mistakes.