Fast ride to free market can kill men early, study warns
New Delhi, Jan. 15: A high-speed scramble towards mass privatisation from state-controlled economies raises death rates in men and may delay transition to western-style capitalism, a study suggests.
It has shown that mass privatisation in post-communist East Europe was associated with increased death rates – by 12.8 per cent -- among working-age men.
The study, by a team of researchers in Oxford, Cambridge and London, was published today in the medical journal The Lancet.
Research fellow David Stuckler at the University of Oxford and his colleagues analysed the pace of privatisation and mortality in men between 15 and 59 years in 25 East European countries between 1989 and 2002.
Their findings show that countries that pursued rapid privatisation during the 1990s experienced sharper drops in life expectancy than countries where the pace of privatisation was slower.
Russia, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia – five countries that saw the speediest privatisation -- had a 42 per cent increase in mortality in 1991-94. But Albania, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovenia, which phased in free-market systems gradually, showed a 10 per cent drop in death rates.
Earlier research had linked unemployment to mortality, but this is the first study to link mortality to the pace of privatisation. The researchers believe that job loss and stress may be the mechanism that connects privatisation to mortality.
"There is strong evidence that psychosocial stress was an important mechanism for the deaths through the early-1990s," said Lawrence King, a sociologist at the University of Cambridge and a co-author of the study.
"Privatisation did lead to a reduction in health resources, but most people died of causes that were not easily treatable such as accidents, suicides, homicides, alcohol poisoning and heart attacks," King told The Telegraph.
The researchers said countries such as China and India should take "lessons from transitions from communism" as they pursue reform.
"By approaching transformation rapidly and radically, prospects for western-style capitalism might have been seriously impaired in countries like Russia," the researchers wrote. "Countries that privatised more slowly managed to reach a capitalist endpoint, but did not absorb nearly the same amount of social costs along the way."
Research team members said India's speed of privatisation has been much slower, closer to the best-performing countries in East Europe than to the ones with the highest risein death rates.
"The other difference is that in India there is a large business class capable of serving as strategic investors. This class was missing in the former Soviet Union," King said. "If you have good owners, it is possible that you can privatise faster with less pain."
Hazardous alcohol consumption, the researchers said, probably contributed significantly to the deaths in the post-communist countries.
The changes in Russia and Belarus show the effect of the pace of privatisation. By 1994, Russia had privatised more than half of an estimated 112,000 state-owned enterprises, but Belarus had privatised only 640 firms, or less than 10 per cent. But death rates in Russia increased by four times as much as in Belarus.
The researchers suggest that the existence of social support networks, and gradual changes involving case-by-case take-overs of state enterprises by new investors, can counterbalance the observed effect on mortality.
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