A Personal Reflection on a Half Century of Economic Progress
Many of us take so much for granted nowadays, from smartphones to good food to relatively cheap transportation to health care. So I thought it would be a good idea to report an imaginary conversation I would have if my brother, Paul, who committed suicide in July 1970 at age twenty-two, somehow showed up today at my home in Pacific Grove, California, and we talked about what I have and what daily life is like. Imagine he knows nothing about what happened between 1970 and 2023.
This is from David R. Henderson, “A Visit From the Past,” Defining Ideas, February 16, 2023.
What follows is an imaginary dialogue between Paul and me.
At the Thai restaurant, I see the doctor who operated on my wife, Rena, when she had an aggressive form of breast cancer in September 1986. I introduce him to Paul. That gets us talking.
Paul: Did Rena have cobalt treatments after her surgery, the way Mum did? [Our mother had a radical mastectomy for breast cancer in October 1966, followed by cobalt treatments. Her cancer came back, and she died in December 1969, a factor, I believe, in Paul’s suicide seven months later.]
David: No. Fortunately, cancer treatments have improved a lot. Rena had a few weeks of radiation treatment and many months of chemotherapy.
Paul: Wow! That does sound like an improvement. What else has changed in the medical world?
David: There are so many procedures now that deal with various diseases that can kill you. There are many treatments for cancer. Doctors can now take a kidney from a donor or a cadaver and use it to replace a failing kidney in a patient. About five years ago, a friend of mine got a good heart from a donor and is still alive. Polio, which Dad had in 1943 and April [our sister] had in 1952, is virtually gone. And the procedures for sicknesses and injuries that are unlikely to kill you are much improved. About fifteen years ago, the wife of one of my best friends had a bicycling accident and broke her arm. She’s a dentist, and missing work would cause her to lose a lot of income. But the technology had improved so that she got a special fix (I can’t remember the details) that got her back to work a few weeks earlier than otherwise.
Health care has improved in another way too, Paul. Remember how depressed you would get? Back then, we had hardly heard of therapy. To us, therapy was something you got after your broken leg had healed. But since then, the kind of therapy where you sit and talk to a professional about your problems has boomed. Also, there are various antidepressants that didn’t even exist when you were alive. It’s quite conceivable that therapy would have worked for you and that if those antidepressants had existed, one or more of them would have worked for you. If so, you might be alive today.
And, at the end, a little humor about Prime Minister Trudeau.
HT2 Don Boudreaux, who assured me that I wasn’t a nut for doing this.
The picture above is my photograph of a pencil drawing that Paul did of himself in the late 1960s. It’s incredibly accurate.
Feb 16 2023 at 12:24pm
David, thank you so much for this beautiful homage to your brother and family.
Feb 16 2023 at 1:48pm
Feb 16 2023 at 3:39pm
What a wonderfully creative way to introduce us to Paul! I pray that someday in the future you’ll have a very real conversation with him (as I hope to with my brother) about these things and the great mystery of afterlife.
Feb 16 2023 at 4:49pm
Feb 17 2023 at 2:13am
He looks like you.
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