Cancer and economic development

January 12, 2012

The World Cancer Research Foundation has published a ranking of countries in terms of cancer rates. The list, and a brief discussion of it, can be found in this article published in the Guardian. Interestingly, the top twenty positions on the list are dominated by OECD nations and the full list suggests a fairly strong correlation between cancer rates and a country’s level of economic development: in general (and with few exceptions, such as Singapore), the greater the level of economic development in a country, the higher the incidence of cancer in the population.  

There is already an abundance of data on the diminishing marginal utility of wealth: beyond a certain level, which some researchers place at about $10,000 per year, increases in wealth are accompanied by increasingly insignificant gains in happiness. It is interesting to bring these two strands of thought together: the economics of happiness, on the one hand, and the economics of cancer on the other. Once basic needs are met, it seems that economic gains do not bring about higher levels of happiness; they do however bring about higher rates of cancer. So this provides yet another reason (in addition to environmental reasons) for rethinking our commitment to economic growth and development. The key question that needs attention is this: exactly whose interests are being served by the commitment to greater material prosperity and economic growth?


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