Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Suicide, politics and economics

A study that appeared in the British Medical Journal this week suggests that the $6-million state-of-the-art suicide barrier built over the Bloor Street Viaduct in Toronto works wonderfully. No one has jumped from that bridge in the 4 years since the barrier was constructed, however those who wanted to jump went to other bridges. That's right, the number of suicides by jumping has not changed in the city (56.4 per year pre-barrier vs. 56.6 per year post-barrier). The entire very readable report is posted here.  On average 9.3 people per year jumped from the Bloor Viaduct, but in the macabre economics of suicide that number did not change. Interestingly the overall number of suicides in the city has decreased significantly over the same time span.
Hindsight is 20/20 sure, but politics in Canada on a city scale or a national scale is fairly predictable. The construction of the bridge barrier is a perfect example of how other people's money is misallocated daily by elected officials at all levels of government. To me this illustrates a phrase commonly used among Austrian economists "what is seen versus what is unseen". If you go to the Ludwig von Mises Institute's website (a wonderful place to explore) and type that phrase into the search box you will see it produces almost 150 results. It is a common theme in Austrian economics that refers to misappropriated resources. Yes, the $6-million solved the problem for the Bloor Viaduct (seen), but did not solve the overall problem of jumping from bridges and has left the city with fewer resources to solve other real problems (unseen).
As this story circulates through the media and gets bounced off a few "experts", you can be sure that no politician involved will admit this was in any way an error, but rather that more money needs to be spent going after the root problems of suicide prevention. Count on it.

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