September 21, 2009

The necessities

A large and growing body of research shows that things like health and mortality are affected by social standing. Once people have the basic resources needed to stay alive, health is influenced by how one stands in relationship to other people in the same society.

This isn't an entirely new idea. Adam Smith, writing in the 1700s, understood that what we consider to be necessities vary according to social customs:

By necessaries I understand not only the commodities which are indispensably necessary for the support of life, but what ever the customs of the country renders it indecent for creditable people in the lowest order to be without. A linen shirt, for example, is, strictly speaking, not a necessity of life. The Greeks and Romans lived, I suppose, very comfortably though they had no linen. But in the present times, through the greater part of Europe, a creditable day-labourer would be ashamed to appear in public without a linen shirt, the want of which would be supposed to denote that disgraceful degree of poverty which, it is presumed, nobody can well fall into without some extreme bad conduct. Custom, in the same manner, has rendered shoes a necessary of life in England. The poorest creditable person of either sex would be ashamed to appear in public without them.

In other words, it's not just about staying alive; it's about being able to participate decently in the life of the community.

SPEAKING OF NECESSITIES, a new study found that 45,000 Americans die prematurely each year due to lack of health care.


SPEAKING IN (OR ABOUT) TONGUES. Here's the latest edition of the Rev. Jim Lewis' Notes from under the Fig Tree.

POLITICAL PARANOIA was the theme here a few weeks back. Here's another take on it.

FINANCIAL REFORM. Krugman says do it.


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