By Ralph Nader
If only canes, walkers, railings and banisters were sentient, what would their message be to humans on Earth? “Prevention is the Priority, Dummies,” they would exclaim. “Look at how many trips and falls we prevent for our users compared to the enormous costs in pain, suffering, family disarray and economic expenses that would occur were it not for our reliable presence day after day. We get no respect!”
For the most part, prevention of waste, injury, disease, casualties, wars, toxic chemicals and corporate crimes such as massive over-billing are just not profitable for mindless CEOs. However, selling goods and services that flow from the tragedies, disasters and injustices not prevented produces profits and jobs.
Taking care of broken hips, busted knees, sprained ankles, head trauma and more is a big business and attracts skilled workers to perform these treatments. A capitalist economy blocks obvious public safety standards by governmental agencies and puts profits before people’s safety and health.
Piles of studies and real-world experiences of people attest to the grisly consequences when prevention is blocked due to greed. Republicans starving the small IRS budget that pays for investigations of complex tax escapes or tax evasions blocks the collection of hundreds of billions of dollars annually from big corporations and the super-rich.
Food companies promoting empty calories to children and adults alike block the known capacity of nutritious diets to prevent heart diseases, diabetes, obesity and other harms to health.
Universal childcare, the child tax credit, paid family leave and an adequate minimum wage all reduce the ravages of family poverty. A Washington Post editorial recently asserted that Republicans blocking the child tax credit extension in January 2022 more than doubled child poverty in our country after it had already been halved in 2021, negatively impacting millions of children with “poorer health, lower educational attainment and fewer job opportunities than their peers.” Think of those immense costs to them and society.
When you think about prevention, you realize these objectives are what many consumer citizen, labor and public health groups are all about.
Simple preventive safety devices such as seatbelts, padded dashboards, head restraints, side and rollover protections, improved tires, brakes and stability have saved millions of lives and even more injuries around the world in motor vehicle collisions.
Educating the public and regulating the homicidal tobacco companies have reduced daily tobacco use from nearly 50% of adults in 1964 to under 14% today. With all the non-smoking bans in public buildings, this helps non-smokers too.
Getting lead out of gasoline and paint in the Seventies reduced the lethal exposure of that menacing toxin, especially to brain-damaged toddlers and children living in run-down tenements with lead paint peeling off apartment walls.
The curse of avoidable famines, especially taking the lives of infants, could be prevented by widely distributed nutrition packages flown into danger zones. Former Senator George McGovern’s last book described the immense savings in life and health by assuring every poor child in the world a free lunch. (See, “What It Means to Be a Democrat” by George McGovern, 2011).
Tested vaccines, without serious side-effects, such as the smallpox vaccines, have saved millions of lives for relatively tiny amounts of prevention money. So have investments in public sanitation.
Prevention – anticipating conflicts and waging peace – pays huge dividends given the devastating costs of wars in terms of lives lost and economic waste. Yet, the arms merchants, the egos and machismo of tyrants and those who build and expand military empires stifle and undermine impoverished peace movements driven by morals, ethics and respect for the rule of law.
The list can go on and on, as the work of Harvard School of Public Health Professor David Hemenway has demonstrated during his long, scholarly career focusing on injury prevention. (See, Harvard Injury Control Research Center).
To make prevention a national priority and a measure of judging candidates for elective office, it is good to start with Congress where in the 60s and 70s important consumer, environmental and worker safety laws were passed, animated by the public’s desire to prevent injuries and diseases.
“Prevention impact statements” should be added to all relevant legislation, including appropriations bills. Establishing a Department of Peace and Academies for Teaching Peace Advocacy should be an essential part of this process. The Defense Department and the military Academies would be more efficient and less militaristic if countervailing peace agencies and educational institutions existed.
Former Representative Dennis Kucinich introduced a bill to establish a Department of Peace. Congressional militarists and those who lobby for weapons of mass destruction made sure it went nowhere. However, senior legislator Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) is interested in pushing such legislation. (Contact him at 202-225-6101.)
In matters large and small, send your ideas for Prevention to your Senators and Representatives and to your state legislators, with copies to us at [email protected].