President Donald Trump led his administration to ban fetal tissue use in research. Both the Washington Post and New York Times immediately pointed to research from HIV to Parkinson’s as possibly being “devastated”.
“The ban on fetal tissue research is akin to a ban on hope for millions of Americans suffering from life-threatening and debilitating diseases. It will also severely impact the National Institutes of Health, universities and other researchers, who will lose key funding for their laboratories and their vital work.”
It is documented well in the book Science Left Behind that, from Bill Clinton to Obama, politicians have been trying to get around the issue of stem cell research. Originally, the issue surrounded embryos, and Congress restricted any money directly involved in their destruction. Dr. James Thomson, at the University of Wisconsin in 1998, isolated Human Embryonic Stem (hESC) cells. These cells are essentially origin cells. They can differentiate into any cell from the body. The potential for curing or treating diseases may be infinite. Dr. Thomson was funded through the Geron Corporation and Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundations. Essentially no federal government funds were used. Stem cells derived from the different tissues of a fetus became the next political battleground.
For years, there has been controversy surrounding the chemical tert-butylhydroquinone (TBHQ). Currently, it is in many food products as an antioxidant. Essentially, its function is to extend the shelf life of certain foods. Robert Freeborn, a toxicologist at Michigan State University, recently carried out a study that looked at its effects on the flu vaccine. The results were cause for worry for anyone who has received the shot.
We see it everywhere; the crunchy panic around genetically modified corn, peas, and drought resistant lettuce. It makes the news about quarterly. Whenever a company is discovered using fragments of algae DNA for the disturbing crime of pesticide-free crops. The information can be public knowledge or a company secret but it’s always treated as the latter. GMOs (genetically modified organisms) such as beans, corn, and tomatoes pose precisely no threat to human health. But the bigger risk of all of this gene editing in strawberries is that it is starting to move into the realm of human genetics. GMOs are all fine with food products, but when it enters the womb, it smells suspiciously of eugenics.
Like most presidents of the 20th century, Richard Nixon was a statist. His policies reflected this throughout his troubled presidency. This, of course, includes the elimination of the gold standard, the institution of wage and price controls, and the creation of unconstitutional federal programs. Most, notably, Nixon created the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).
A History of Harm
Since he created the agency, it has been the most prominent overlord of personal responsibility. America has a long-held claim that it is the land of the free. However, the DEA has usurped every American’s sovereignty, spending millions of dollars on arresting and detaining Americans. What for? Nixon and the DEA claimed that “subversive substances” were a public enemy.
Another adverse quality of the Drug Enforcement Agency is their stifling of medical research on prohibited drugs. From cannabis to LSD, they restrict the ability to research clear health benefits. Here are a few examples of how the DEA restrains medical progress, despite the potential to assuage many Americans’ suffering.
Cannabis and the DEA
The United States has recognized cannabis as a medicine since 1996. Despite this, the DEA’s resistance to reefer and science has been robust. While numerous studies over the past few decades have proven the benefits of marijuana, there is still much more ground to cover.
For example, it took until 1990 for scientists to discover cannabinoid receptors within the human brain. Cannabis’s designation as a schedule one substance since 1971 has been the most formidable obstacle to delving into marijuana’s myriad of health benefits. Interestingly, the state prohibited the drug far before they even knew of these receptors.
All schedule one illicit drugs, according to the DEA, are dangerous for consumption, highly addictive, and possess no medical value. First of all, it is unconstitutional for the federal government to even create a ranking such as this. But going beyond that, it is absurd for them to consider marijuana a schedule one narcotic.
More than half of all states have some form of medical marijuana, and even the federal government holds a patent for medical marijuana. Furthermore, 85% of Americans believe cannabis should be medically legal. Thus, many wonder why the state still refuses to recognize the drug’s health benefits.
Though hard to believe, magic mushrooms, like cannabis, have possessed medicinal and cultural merit for quite a while. However, in the 1970’s, Timothy Leary, a prominent member of the 60’s counter-culture movement, conducted a study called the Concord Prison Experiment. In his study, he distributed psychedelic mushrooms coupled with assisted group therapy to prisoners. He then measured recidivism rates to test the effects of psilocybin-induced treatment. Initially, the results were fruitful, reducing the recidivism rate by 50 percent.
Another trailblazing psilocybin study conducted in the 1960’s is the “Good Friday Experiment”. Led by doctorate student Walter Pahnke, two groups of theology students attended Good Friday service. Pahnke gave one group the mushrooms and left the other as a control. The objective was to assess whether or not psilocybin could deepen the religious experience.
As theorized, all members of the psilocybin group reported a substantially more profound experience than the members of the control. These results, as well as others, further discredit the DEA’s claim that psilocybin is a dangerous, addictive substance with no health or therapeutic benefit.
LSD: Lost Past and Lost Potential
In 1938, Swiss scientist Albert Holfmann successfully separated the molecule lysergic acid diethylamide while studying ergot in his laboratory. Ever since his bicycle ride home transformed into a trip of a lifetime, scientists have experimented with LSD, eager to learn of its usefulness. Scientists aren’t the only ones intrigued by the compound. Some historians believe LSD may have been at the crux of the Salem Witch Trials. One plausible explanation is that the women may have ingested ergot, a fungus found on wheat, which contains the LSD.
Although the DEA continues to categorize acid as a perilous substance with no benefit, health or otherwise, to our well-being, the scientific community continues to prove otherwise. Acid is infamous for its ability to stimulate the imagination and to make users more creative and insightful. Other studies conclude that LSD alleviates anxiety, especially amongst the terminally ill.
But perhaps the most appalling aspect of the DEA’s tyrannical stronghold over the substance is that bromine, a compound identical to acid without the psychedelic-induced trip, has repeatedly reduced cluster headaches, which are intensified migraines notorious for their painful nature. However, since bromine closely resembles LSD, researchers are often unable to further tests bromine’s inexplicable ability to relieve the agony of the horrendous headaches, leaving sufferers helpless and in excruciating misery.
The DEA, through regulation, is a great threat to the well-being and freedom of Americans. Ending this agency, and Nixon’s failed drug war along with it, would bring a new age of research and medicinal gains. Only through abolishing the DEA can we reap these clear health benefits.
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The gross domestic product (GDP) made sense in the 1930s. For one thing, we lacked both the understanding and the tools to effectively track progress in many of the areas that people really care about. For another, we were in the midst of a depression that demanded some means of confirming the success of our efforts to escape it.
In the immediate aftermath of World War II, the GDP was likewise a useful statistic to measure economic progress in countries that had been ravaged by the conflict. Though it was understood by some, including the economist who developed it, Simon Kuznets, that it wasn’t necessarily an indicator of human welfare, the fact remained that anything like human welfare was impossible to address in nations whose major cities had effectively been reduced to rubble.
The US, for its part, saw only positive impacts from the conflict. The war had pulled it from The Great Depression while two large oceans had made a bombing campaign against cities and industries based on its mainland impossible for either the Germans or the Japanese to practically pull off. Given its unprecedented economic and military position on the world’s postwar stage, America’s decision to use what was then referred to as the GNP to track economic activity and growth almost feels in retrospect like rigging the game to ensure the score always placed it way out in front.
What society measures are an indication of what it values. To Americans, the GDP figure has achieved something like the same status E=MC² enjoys amongst physicists. Donald Trump could hardly contain himself when the last quarterly report indicated America had temporarily achieved greater than 4% annualized GDP growth and felt certain that such growth figures had vindicated everything from his fiscally irresponsible tax cuts to his dangerously ill-conceived tariffs.
The problem, as has been pointed out by figures no less notable than Robert Kennedy, is that the GDP doesn’t distinguish between car accidents and car sales. The GDP “does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.” Kennedy continued, “It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.” Nearly three months after he delivered those words, the GDP measured the amount of money spent to mourn and bury Robert Kennedy after an assassin shot him in the kitchen of Los Angeles’ Ambassador Hotel.
Some will undoubtedly object that Robert Kennedy was being unrealistic. ‘We can’t measure the beauty of our poetry’ they will say, ‘or the intelligence of our public debate.’ What society needs, according to these GDP apologists, is an objective measure of how the economy is doing and, according to them, that’s precisely the role the GDP plays.
But there’s a problem with this line of reasoning, and it’s a big one: the economy isn’t an objective thing, at least not in the sense many economists and politicians mean. There isn’t a family on the planet that thinks that because a loved one’s death took roughly the same financial toll as their last family vacation together these two events are objectively equivalent. There isn’t a soul on earth who thinks that a weekend spent engrossed in a hobby that they truly enjoy or playing with their children is less valuable than a miserable day at work just because the GDP counts the latter as the larger contributor to economic activity. What things cost reflects how much we pay for them, not how much we value them.
In his book, Utopia For Realists, Rutger Bregman demonstrates why the GDP has always been too blunt an instrument to use as an accurate indicator of progress. Output has always been what the GDP measured best. However, automation and other improvements to efficiency are now dulling the GDP to the point that it’s practically useless as a tool for dissecting what’s happening within the economic sphere. Bregman writes:
When the musical mastermind [Mozart] composed his 14th string quartet in G major (K. 387) in 1782, he needed four people to perform it. Now, 250 years later, it still requires exactly four. If you’re looking to up your violin’s production capacity, the most you can do is play a little faster. Put another way: Some things in life, like music, resist all attempts at greater efficiency. While we can produce coffee machines ever faster and more cheaply, a violinist can’t pick up the pace without spoiling the tune.
In our race against the machine, it’s only logical that we’ll continue to spend less on products that can be easily made more efficiently and more on labor-intensive services and amenities such as art, healthcare, education, and safety. It’s no accident that countries that score high on well-being, like Denmark, Sweden, and Finland, have a large public sector. Their governments subsidize the domains where productivity can’t be leveraged. Unlike the manufacture of a fridge or a car, history lessons and doctor’s checkups can’t simply be made ‘more efficient.’
Policymakers and citizens alike are likely to make better choices when they have a diverse collection of data resources from which to draw. The GDP lumps too much together under the same umbrella, counting money spent on cancer treatment the same as money spent visiting a national park. When GDP growth alone is a nation’s primary public policy goal policies that often increase personal costs yet worsen people’s lives are too frequently incentivized.
Fortunately, there is an alternative to GDP. The Social Progress Index (SPI) tracks a nation’s progress by creating a score for categories and subcategories listed under three main headings: Basic Human Needs, Foundations for Wellbeing, and Opportunity. So, for example, one of the four main categories listed under Basic Human Needs is nutrition and basic medical care. To determine how a nation is doing in this area the SPI looks at a country’s rate of undernourishment, depth of food deficit, maternal mortality rate, child mortality rate, and deaths from infectious disease. The SPI evaluates 50 indicators overall to determine the score for any given country.
The Index aims to be a practical tool that helps leaders and practitioners in government, business and civil society to implement policies and programs that will drive faster social progress. To achieve that goal, we measure outcomes in a granular way that focuses on specific areas that can be implemented directly. The framework allows us to provide not only an aggregate country score and ranking, but also granular analyses of specific areas of strength and weakness which allow change-makers to identify and act upon the most pressing issues in their societies. ~ Social Progress Index methodology
Unfortunately, citizens are not used to thinking about all the particulars that go into creating maximum wellbeing and opportunities for fulfillment, and politicians from across the political spectrum too often seem to like it that way. Political leaders have an interest in keeping their voters focused on a single number rather than having the information they need to identify areas needing improvement within their communities, states, and countries.
The pleasure Donald Trump recently took in reporting a temporary quarterly spike in growth is a prime example of just how toxic focusing on GDP alone can be for a society. Because he had “good” GDP numbers to report the president was able to not only completely ignore the ongoing stagnation in wages but divert the public’s attention away from the slow-motion economic and political crisis that stagnation is creating. In addition, America’s skyrocketing health and education spending actually increase the GDP, incentivizing politicians that associate economic improvement with gains in this single metric alone to potentially make these problems even worse for the average American rather than better.
This laser-like focus on the GDP causes us to lose sight of the big picture. We believe we have an indicator that functions as a kind of grand unified theory of economics. In fact, the data used to generate it comes from too many disparate sources to tell us much of anything about how the economy is really doing. It tells us even less how the people that make up that economy are managing.
The GDP is a kind of life preserver thrown to the status quo. It makes it difficult to impossible to hold government, business, or other civic institutions accountable or to develop plans that target specific problems that are often desperately in need of our attention. The GDP in Flint, Michigan, for example, will probably go up in spite of the lead in its water because increases in health care spending are one of the many unfortunate side effects of lead poisoning. But while Flint’s GDP may rise, its Water and Sanitation and Environmental Quality scores on the SPI cannot. This fact alone should be enough to give those defending the GDP some objective considerable pause.
“Growth for the sake of growth,” the American writer Edward Abbey wrote, “is the ideology of the cancer cell.” We should have started asking ourselves a long time ago what ends all this economic growth was meant to serve. Instead, we lazily allowed growth itself to become the end to which all other aspirations take a back seat.
It’s always possible to convince yourself you’re making progress when you’re measuring how far you’ve moved in the wrong direction. The US does have the largest GDP on the planet, for example, but it also has tens of millions of uninsured and under-insured citizens and an infrastructure that is decaying much faster than current investment can keep up with. The $1.5 trillion in student debt that disproportionately burdens its young and poor all adds to the nation’s GDP as well but at the expense of leaving them feeling increasingly hopeless and angry.
America, along with much of the rest of the world, can keep putting off a great debate about what really matters but sooner or later entropy will demand that debate not be postponed any longer. Climate change, if nothing else, looks increasingly poised to force the issue. The SPI gives us 50 places to start the discussion, but this needn’t represent an exhaustive list. The GDP, on the other hand, represents the “ideology of the cancer cell.” Left untreated we all know where that leads.
*Author’s note: The original measurement of economic activity was known as the gross national product (GNP). The US switched to the GDP in the early 1990s. Since the criticisms raised in this article apply equally to both means of measuring economic activity, the relatively minor differences between these two methods have been intentionally ignored. With one small exception, I chose to apply the contemporary term “GDP” throughout the article for consistency’s sake.