The Currency of Informality: Health

Alan Waxman, May 8, 2016

 

 

A multinational corporation issues a difficult directive to a CEO:

 

Facilitate economic growth in the post industrial and informal cities of the world.

 

The mines are mined out, the factories closed, the sidewalks cracked, the buildings burnt.  Clusters of tar paper houses climb ridge lines.  Nonetheless, the corporate economy must grow. Something moves in an alley: a child, a family, an old man.  Life stirs.  Like the determined volunteer species that colonize the broken city, human beings persist with a zest for life.

 

And death waits.  It waits and is held back by a growing and lucrative assembly of machinery operating in hospitals.

 

A grandfather lies strapped to a chair in a lonely room, body penetrated by 20 tubes.  A teenage boy is resuscitated after multiple bullet wounds.  An asthmatic girl suffers from complications involving compound chronic diseases.  Life continues.  And with each hour, each minute, insurance pays the bills.  Our very appreciation and value for life sustains one of the largest and fastest growing industries in the world.

 

Research shows that the greater the poverty, the greater the post-industrial funk, the greater the chronic disease.  And this is translated into money.  In the United States, chronic disease accounts for over two thirds of all $3 trillion of hospital costs. (1)(2)

 

The very industrial systems that exacerbate urban decay create the environment of chronic disease that drives up hospital costs.(3) Rather than field or mine, the human body has become the site of extraction in post-industrial cities. The pay-out comes in insurance dollars generated by our collective care in fellow human beings.  

 

In our current "resource" based economic model, informal systems - neighborhoods - do not escape extraction, and we who make up their living parts are seen as "resources." Although we fully conscious living beings might not be considered useful for our work performing or transforming resources, our bodies, the formal extents of our informal system, are increasingly valued as a material resource - this resource is called "our health."

 

Knowingly inhabiting our own bodies and neighborhoods, we value our own lives.  On an individual and an aggregate scale, we try to maintain some formality and order in and around our bodies, maintaining bodily processes that allow our lives to continue.  This is our lifestyle. This process of maintaining the body of an informal system, directed from the inside, but with the help of the outside is lifestyle change.  When it is a measurable economic service provided it is called "healthcare."  

 

Because healthcare is dependent on the consent of the patient - because the value of the treatment of the body is dependent on the intelligence inside the body - health is the valued resource of information urbanism,  Healthcare is the currency of intelligent living systems ecologies. 

 

This currency of intelligent informal systems is generated by operating in places and bodies of expressed need.  In this way, we can say the vulnerability of a living system is the means of production of informal capital:  Living systems generate currency in our economy through vulnerability.  Whatever structures can meet these needs of vulnerability have the greatest value.  Governments, non-government organizations, and corporations that successfully care for the most vulnerable people and locations garner local and international support. 

 

(1)Health costs are estimated for 2014 (https://www.cms.gov/research-statistics-data-and-systems/statistics-trends-and-reports/nationalhealthexpenddata/downloads/highlights.pdf)

(2)(http://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/overview/)

(3) See the first part of this series, "Towards an Information Urbanism: Beyond Form and Function"

 

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