Money isn’t everything

People are obsessed with making money and with saving money.  Governments are no different.  We all want to make “informed decisions”, that’s why we pour over the studies that look into the best way to save money.  Trouble is, though, we’re not actually making decisions.  We’re just using the information we generate to do whatever is best from a financial perspective.  That’s a great way to do things if you’re a robot, but — if we’re interested in actually being human — we’ve got do more than simply crunch the numbers.
We're not going anywhere soon.  After I finish this one I'm lighting up another.

We’re not going anywhere soon. After I finish this one I’m lighting up another.

You’ve certainly read plenty of news articles summarizing the steady stream of academic reports that are being published so we can figure out how to save on health care costs.  The article below was written a few years ago, but the “conclusions” have been validated over and over since then:


Last updated at 16:09 05 February 2008

With layers of fat where her waist should be, you might think the woman pictured below left will prove as big a strain on NHS resources as she does on the scales.  Likewise, the girl on the far right will be a financial liability because of her nicotine habit.  The vision of health in the middle, meanwhile, is hardly likely to register on the budget.

Obese: Risking diabetes and heart attacks,
Thin: Healthy, but there’s a catch,
Smoker: Risking lung cancer and strokes

But all is not as it seems. It is the healthiest of the three who will in fact cost the taxpayer more than the other two over their respective lifetimes, a study claims.

While smokers and the overweight are often criticised for the financial impact of their unhealthy lifestyles, an obese person’s medical bills actually average 10 per cent less overall than those of a person of normal weight.

Smokers require even less treatment, say the researchers.

The reason is that the healthy tend to live longer and so, while they might not have to battle lung cancer, heart disease or diabetes in their fifties, they may need long-term care for illnesses of old age such as Alzheimer’s.

As a result, any “savings” made by them being healthy when young are more than offset by their being ill in old age.

Based on healthcare costs in Holland, where the study was conducted, a person of normal weight can expect their medical bills from the age of 20 to total £210,000 over the course of their lifetime, while an obese person’s costs will be £187,000. Smokers, whose life expectancy is the shortest of the three, cost the least, at £165,000, the researchers from the National Institute for Public Health and Environment calculated.

Writing in the journal PLoS Medicine, the researchers said: “Obesity increases the risk of diseases such as diabetes, increasing healthcare utilisation but decreasing life expectancy.

“Unfortunately, these life-years gained are not lived in full health and come at a price: people suffer from other diseases which increases healthcare costs. The underlying mechanism is that there is a substitution of inexpensive, lethal diseases towards less lethal, and therefore more costly diseases.”


Nothing surprising here and, no doubt, you know loads of people who’ve taken up the smoking habit or switched to a larger diet with more calories and fat.  You probably know loads of people who’ve done both.  Maybe you are somebody who’s done both and you’re probably pretty happy with yourself, thinking  that you’re on your way to financial independence.
I know this is very controversial, but you really shouldn’t be growing out of your clothes and buying cigarettes by the carton simply because it makes so much financial sense.  Let me tell you why.  There’s no way to predict what’s coming up next in the world of economic studies.  I’m old enough to have watched these things turn around and for all we know we might start seeing reports come out that tell us it’s good for your finances to lose weight or to stop smoking.  I’m not kidding about this!  There are loads of things that economists were saying when I was young that are the opposite of what they’re saying now.  Financial advice changes with the fashion.
Don’t be surprised if somebody starts piling up evidence that the slim non-smokers are the ones who are better off — and when they do, remember that I told you so.
You shouldn’t smoke and get fat for the money.  You should smoke and get fat for better reasons.  Spiritual reasons.  When you start noticing your waistline expand don’t think, “I can take this to the bank.”  Instead think, “I’m becoming a more joyful, more compassionate person.”  When somebody points out that your teeth and nails are getting yellow don’t think, “I’ll be able to afford a vacation home when I retire.”  This is what you should be thinking: “I’m making the world a better place.”
Nobody wants to think about it, but we’ve all got to die sometime and you’re certainly not going to be able to “take it with you.”  The life lived in the pursuit of money is a sad and empty one; but the person who is always thinking of others and trying to be the best person she or he can possibly be will have lived a good life whether it’s a short one or a long one and whether they’ve made money or not.
Think about this the next time you have to decide whether to take a smoke break, or whether to order that ice cream sundae.

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