Monday, 22 March 2010

Obama’s Global Health Care Impact

Finally Obama might have some global consequences...

The crisis offered hope about the global reform. Although we are still struggling with understanding how the global economy works, the eventual development of some kind of global economic policy umbrella has become increasingly inevitable. As this blog pointed out before, Barack Obama had a unique opportunity to design and push through such a global institutional architecture, and it has been disappointing that he decided not to do so.

Yet, the health care reform that he finally pushed through the US Congress yesterday could have global impact.

First, it will have an effect in a host of developing countries. Consider the immediate news coverage, for instance: Khaleej Times in Dubai, or O Globo in Brazil, or The Times of India. In these markets, Obama is still their own, as a leader and as a member of their virtual social reality. His actions, healthcare reform among them, set benchmarks for expectations about their own countries’ policy reform.

The idea of universal healthcare, alien in most developing countries, will become the norm. Obama’s reform will boost local constituencies for healthcare reform in these countries. The details of the reform (which is not bad despite the bickering and ridiculous length) will enter the local healthcare debates. Maybe not the mechanics, but definitely the philosophy: healthcare is a right not a privilege, kids should be covered whatever the country's circumstances, one population translates ultimately as one insurance pool. The attention to Obama alone might just make local reforms more likely. 

From now on, every would-be local Obama will want to consider putting healthcare reform on his or her billboard

(An election campaign billboard, Jayapura, West Papua, autumn 2008. Notice the halo above Obama's head...)

Second, perhaps almost as important as helping the local healthcare causes is the return of Obama to the global political scene. He wasted his global political capital -- a narrow window of a few months to build global economic policy institutions after his election and taking office. The best we have now in terms of emerging global policy architecture is a few half-hearted attempts towards globalish-looking financial regulation, although even this is turning into a clash between the etatist solution coming from Brussels and the ‘market-friendly’ solution coming from Washington. Much of the world is left out of this fight: no other region of the world has a large enough financial market to matter globally, and in any case, no population really understands - or cares - about the details.

The rest of the global umbrella has been left off the table. The recovery came too soon. (This time.)

But the opportunity might yet be revived. The next item on Obama’s agenda is financial regulatory reform, which will inevitably go global. And you cannot do global regulation without some form of deeper harmonisation of the rest of the policy mix.

The coming months might just reset the probabilities about the next crisis.


  1. If the Obama reform indeed becomes an inspiration elsewhere, it could have a global macro impact too. Extending public health insurance might lead to a reduction in (precautionary) saving in some surplus countries and contribute towards re-balancing (especially, if they manage to make it so expensive for the public coffers :)).

  2. Good point. Unless of course the US savings drop even more...

    (I was wavering quite a bit whether I should include a Chinese internet news site in the coverage example list together with the Brazilian, Indian, and Emirati. Not sure, how much Obama-effect there is in China, though.)

  3. "

The idea of universal healthcare, alien in most developing countries, will become the norm."

    In fact the US is one of the few remaining countries WITHOUT some form of universal heatlthcare or single payer plan. Only the continent of Africa, big swaths of the middle east, India and the third world countries of southeast asia are still on a US style system.

    The US is finally joining the rest of the developed world

  4. Well, technically US is not there in the universal health care list yet. People will still buy their own plans and there will still be a ignificant number of uninsured (5% pop in 2019).
    But there is hope that the system will be further mended in coming years


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