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When the economy is sick: First go to doctors, not economists (1)

The problem with doctors or health service personnel, generally, is that they are so dedicated to their tasks that they forget to retain public relations services. Listening in on their stethoscopes, they easily shut out all other signals or noises that may disrupt their life-saving work.

Somehow, they forget that the world runs not just on veracity and service, but, more importantly, on hype and gestures. It just so happens that those who doctor and retail their tales the most get to be our urban heroes. And the others, like physicians, who won’t, miss out on the market for universal public appreciation. This accounts for why national medical service delivery suffers low budgetary attention in Abuja and the state capitals.

Let us take economists for a counter-example. Repeatedly, any 10 economists would predict the last 11 of 10 recessions that never happened. And as to the last economic recession, no mainstream economists knew why or how it came upon the world. Yet the economists remain in honour and routinely live in splendour.

Well, it may not be that economists sell snake oil. Despite their cow-faced certainty in almost all things, one is at a loss what it is they really sell. And, if we recall that one of their kind, David Stockman, confessed, “None of us really understands what’s going on with all these numbers,” we may begin to trust God more and the stock exchange less. Stockman was a Director of Budget under President Ronald Reagan of the United States.

The point, however, is that economists are smarter. For economists, PR, toadying before the mighty and disdaining the multitudes are key tools of their trade. And this “smart servility” has shown insistently like a bad cough. A historical glance, for instance, reveals that at every major junction, economics has thrown up practitioners who, like Shakespeare or Soyinka, are wizards with words. And they come, combining sharp swinging tongues with trenchant voices like those of the tyrants, Generals Idi Amin and Murtala Mohammed. The roll call, Adam Smith, Keynes, Malthus and, lately, Krugman are famous for sweet generalities that are neither curative nor prophylactic.

And, if it suits, economists on the sly readily recruit the powerful for spokespersons. Margaret Thatcher, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama were in part megaphones for Milton Friedman, globalisation and free trade, which are now all out of fashion and out of honour. That is, slick and powerful spin-doctoring alone, more than anything else, explains why economists are urban heroes, while doctors stew in relative historical obscurity.

Yet, taken toe-to-toe, pound-for-pound, not one of the greatest economists has accomplished more for our commonwealth than the greatest doctors, even in the field of applied economics. Professors Marcello Malpighi, Robert Koch, Andreas Vesalius and Ivan Pavlov are so elephantine in accomplishments they are almost deities.

Tallying the numbers

The miracle of extended life expectancy is largely a gift of doctors and medical sciences. And that is the basis of all economic abundance. Let us illustrate with this mental exercise. Would you prefer to be as rich as Dangote and die at 35 or be half as rich as Dangote at 35 and live to be 80? The economic consequences of the latter option are far better both for the individual and for his country. And that is a gift from the medics, not the economists.

Now, the irony. While the presidents and men of power preach, “It is economics, stupid,” they stealthily practice “it is health, stupid,” in their closets. They know health is the foundation of all wealth but preach economics; that is, a full, even if diseased, stomach, to the poor. For them, it is a game to fool the multitudes in exchange for their legitimatisation or votes.

The “koko of the matter” is that the closet and closest aide to President Muhammadu Buhari, say, is not the nation’s economic adviser, if there be any, but his chief medical adviser and physician. And this bond has been as ancient as history. For instance, Aristotle’s father, Nicomachus, was court physician and confidant to Alexander the Great’s grandfather. Alexander’s father, King Philip II
, and Aristotle were members of one extended Imperial Household. That connection accounts for Aristotle’s stupendous wealth, at least as his last will and testament reveals. Similar connections may explain the wealth of Adnan Khashoggi of Saudi Arabia and our own Bello Osagie, etc. Their fathers were all physicians to dictators or presidents. And these men are just popular faces to an insistent reality. So the point is, whatever else they mouth in public, mighty men of power rank their health above wealth and trust their physicians more than their (economic) advisers.

The moral of this is that when next you see your doctor, salute him. He may not be an urban hero, but he may have done greater common good than many a politician or economist. And this is especially so if you are a senior citizen or just simply above 40. The point again is simple: To have lived above 40 is a miracle of modern medicine, not economics. In fact, if you were born before modern medicine, life would be nasty, brutish and short. With all Dangote’s wealth, for instance, would you have preferred to live in an era when there was literally no cure for anything other than common cold?

Now, we cannot all be presidents. But nothing prevents us from spoiling ourselves like presidents, like the Buharis. And that is to quickly come to the knowledge that our most important asset as economic beings is our health, not our bank balances. And the keepers of those assets are not our bankers or the nation’s chief economic advisers. They are our doctors. If you have health, you can work out your wealth. The dying are never going to be wealthy anyway! As for the dead, they have already lost the game. Ahiazuwa.

The Cedar Group/United Nations make us feel presidential?

So you can imagine how presidential we felt being invited to a United Nations Kidney Day conference. Elegantly organised by Cedar Group Hospital, Festac, Lagos, the programme really went off famously. Even those of us who were not medics learnt a lot. The most compelling for us is worth sharing with the public.

First, the intro. The lead lecturer was Prof. E. A. Arogundade, a highly sought-after Consultant Nephrologist, that is, kidney care specialist. He teaches at the Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital, Ile-Ife. Our key take-away from him was this: If you are above 40, you may have to wake up to a fact. It might be self-deceitful to certify oneself as having healthy kidneys on the basis that one is feeling hale and hearty, like Olumo Rock.  The point is that certain or a majority of serious kidney diseases are asymptomatic in several of their states and stages. And he counted five stages. From one to three, you could be having serious kidney issues but won’t know or feel it. To know precisely the state of your kidney health, you need medical examination. If, for any reason, you skip these examinations and only come in to see your doctor while the kidney ailment is symptomatic, that is, at the later stages of four or five, you may have almost lost it. At that point, not much may be done for you. However, your chances are best in the early or asymptomatic stages. At those points, the degeneration or disease could be arrested and a normal kidney restored to you.

That, for us, was as prophylactic, as advices go. Through free information, one has become prospectively healthier. Of course, the ancient viewpoint is still true: Prevention is better than cure.

And not to lose out after we were given this “insider information,” it was indicated we did the kidney medicals. Luckily, a medic and a conference attendee who sat close confided that Cedar Group Hospital was among the three best service kidney centres in Lagos, if not the whole country. Maybe, by the time you are reading this, we would have gone through a battery of tests. Well, the hope is that one will be certified as not being into kidney issues at all. In all, though, the game is simple. It is that to live healthily long, one has to take on his health proactively, presidentially.

So, next time any of these over-hyped economists or bankers are giving speeches, you may get smarter. Skip their speeches and let the economically analphabetic attend. Go for a health conference or vacation, like your president. That, we can tell, is the smarter thing to do. And you and your bank account would have been better off. If in doubt, ask your pastor, imam or doctor, but never an economist or banker.

Finally, taking a philosophical view, there is nothing earth-shaking in this. Economics is, after all, a brace-factor contributor to human wellbeing. Medicine and the primary sciences are the constitutive factors. It is the constitutive factors that create the wealth that economists and bankers claim to administer, or even double, a la MMM. Ahiazuwa.

Jimanze is the author of the modern classic, “Economists as Assassins; The Nigerian Connection,” published by The Stone Press.

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