Fear mongering is the norm. People get sick because of the fear instilled by advertising. This provides fodder for pharmaceutical companies to sell drugs
"They laugh at me because,
I'm different; I laugh at them because,
They're all the same." - Kurt Cobain
John Kenneth Galbraith, if he were alive today, would have changed the definition of advertisements in his famous book, Affluent Society, written in 1958. He had written that advertisements are not to inform the buyer about the product but to make him want to buy that product even when it is not needed. He made a clear distinction between needs and wants, rightly so for an Harvard ace economist! If Mr Galbraith were to see cancer technology advertisements today, with poor patients walking to the scanner in hospital robes, every fifteen minutes, he would have died of fear of cancer! Incidentally, John died at the ripe old age of 97, in 2006. It is as if advertisements are inviting you to be a cancer patient to avail of their wonderful hi-tech facility! The cancer technology television advertisements reminds one that cancer is is due to attack any time soon, creating morbid fear of cancer and death. This happens hundreds of times daily.
Advertising for killer cooking oils, full of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), so called ‘heart healthy oil’, with a picture of a beating heart evokes viewers the alarm reaction of an impending heart attack if one does not use the advertised oil, is another fear mongering tactic. The truth is that PUFA are very bad for the heart. The first New York study in 1957 by Dr Norman Jollife, director of the New York City Health Department, of 1,100 people who were given polyunsaturated fats showed that their blood fat reports all came to accepted NORMALS; however, 26 of those people had died of premature heart attacks in one year while only six had died in the control group. This sordid drama has been repeated in every other study since. Now, it is also known that atherosclerotic plaques are filled with polyunsaturated fats. The ‘heart healthy oil’ advertisements are thus a double edged sword—with one edge inducing fear of heart attacks to kill more people and the other creating advanced atherosclerosis because of polyunsaturated fats in those oils.
There’s one where young children drool at an advertisement of fried chicken with another poisonous free drink by its side as a bonus. These drinks are advertised separately by sports and film stars. In return, they get a few crores! I must congratulate our prime minister for awarding the Bharat Ratna to Sachin Tendulkar despite reservations from the home ministry. Sachin Tendulkar, as Bharat Ratna, can no longer advertise those bottled drinks and unhealthy desiccated milk drinks. Thank God, millions of his fans’ health will thus improve. Our prime minister is a brainy hero who had killed two birds with one stone-improving the health of young Indians and boosting his party’s sagging vote bank.
We seem to think that western science is the be all and end all of human wisdom. Those who follow that get funding from the government and are praised to the skies. Let us examine and see what the great western thinkers think about their own science? In his editorial for Science, former President Clinton wrote, "...we must always remember that science is not God. Our deepest truths remain outside the realm of science." Our prime minister, a good friend of Clinton, would take this advice to know what the limits of science are before being lead to allot more and more money for science research in India. To exculpate science’s inability to to answer the ultimate questions in life, Peter Medawar, a Nobel Laureate in his book Limits to Science, tries to do his best to protect scientific endeavour against damage by people and governments. He takes up important matters but admits that science as an enterprise, although the best to date, has its own inherent limits! ‘Science’, he feels, is built to answer certain questions but not all questions and compares science to a railway engine that can only move on a track but cannot be made to fly like an aeroplane. This is a wonderful book that should be read before claiming that science is the best that can happen to mankind.
‘Science’ came up at a time when the earlier enterprise called ‘religion’ was reigning high and mighty causing havoc. Rightly, scientific enterprise has been able to counter the religious monopoly to a great extent. Unfortunately, there has not been an enterprise to keep scientific arrogance under control so far. So, ‘science’, as I shall show, is running unchallenged to date.
Paul Feyerabend, a former colleague of Karl Popper, was the professor of science philosophy at UC Berkeley and later at Federal Institute of Technology at Zurich, wrote a classic Against Method. He takes the reader through a maze of science to show the truth hidden somewhere else. Along with Popper’s The Logic of Scientific Discoveries and Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Feyerabend’s Against Method has become a classic in its own right. He writes, “Western science now reigns supreme all over the globe; however, the reason was not the insight in its inherent rationality but power play. The colonising nations imposed their ways of living and their need for weapons. Western science so far has created the most efficient instruments of death.” Western medicine helped temporarily to control some infections, but that does not mean that western science is the only tradition that has good and that other forms of inquiry are without any merit whatsoever “First-world science is one science among many; by claiming to be more it ceases to be an instrument of research and turns into a (political) pressure group.” Feyerabend writes extensively on these points in his classic, Farewell to Reason.
The best critique of science I saw is in a book by two physicists, Harry Collins and Trevor Pinch, with an interesting and very apt title, The Golem. They are using Golem as a metaphor for science. It is worth noting that this mediaeval tradition of creature of clay (In India we find it even now on new buildings etc.) was animated by the writing EMETH, meaning truth, inscribed on its forehead. It is the truth that drives it on but it does not mean it understands the truth-far from it! Golem science is not to be blamed for its mistakes (of not going to the moon); they are our mistakes. The Golem cannot be blamed as it is trying to do its best. We must not expect too much from science. A Golem, powerful though it is, is but a creature of our own art and our craft.
Medical science has much more to answer for compared to general sciences. We need to worry that the pharmaceutical industry scandals in recent years, including some criminal convictions, billions of dollars in fines, proof of bias in research and publishing and false marketing claims. Even the Ivy League universities in the United States are not exempt from this fraud of potential financial conflicts by faculty members. The Harvard Medical School said it was unable to provide annual measures of the money flow to its faculty, beyond the $8.6 million that pharmaceutical companies contributed last year for basic-science research and the $3 million for continuing education classes on campus. Most of the money goes to professors at the Harvard-affiliated teaching hospitals. The dean’s office does not keep track of the total, but no one disputes that Harvard Medical faculty members receive tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars a year through industry consulting and speaking fees. Under the school’s disclosure rules, about 1,600 of 8,900 professors and lecturers have reported to the dean that they or a family member had a financial interest in a business related to their teaching, research or clinical care. The reports show 149 financial ties with Pfizer and 130 with Merck.
In our present ‘health SCARE system’, we do not want to be left behind in the advertisement field. Come winter and we are out with the flu vaccine-scare mongering advertisements. Scientific studies have shown that flu vaccine is not effective in the first place and it might even increase the risk of catching flu. But every winter season we are frightened and we want to be vaccinated. Even the World Health Organisation (WHO) was linked to giant pharma lobby in the Swine Flu saga a couple of years ago, when the former unscientifically permitted the tag of ‘PANDEMIC’ to the disease just to help the vaccine manufacturers to get good business, especially from all the governments all over the world. ‘Disease mongering’ has become a routine in our medical establishment.
When a company found a new chemical molecule that reduced the blood pressure (BP), they wanted to have more hypertensives. In Germany, where most original ideas emanate, there were ‘WELL MAN’ clinics. These were small vans with a mobile clinic inside having BP apparatuses and cute nurses. These vans would be parked in church squares on Sundays and shopping malls on all days. People are invited for a FREE CHECK UP. When the beautiful nurse holds your hand your BP shoots up and you become a ‘hypertensive’. Then you consume ‘hypertensive’ drugs immediately. Same applies to hyperglycaemia.
Morning newspapers carry the ‘scientific’ averments of our sacred thought leaders, especially in our metropolis cities, led from Chennai, now and then are stating that India will be the diabetic capital of the world, thus provoking fear in each of us. In the good old days when we were hunter gatherers, humans were endowed with a wonderful survival mechanism called the autonomic nervous system and the RAAS (Renin angiotensin aldosterone system), to save us from predators in the forest. If one sees a tiger s/he had to run away from the tiger. To run we need energy and better blood supply. The sight of the tiger in the forest makes our blood pressure and heart rate go up and our blood sugar to sharply rise, for energy. This sugar comes from the glycogen stores in the liver meant for such emergencies.
Today we have similar ‘urban tigers’ in form of a bad boss, a nasty subordinate, or the fear mongering in daily advertisements. They all provoke the same fright-flight-fight response, similar to our forest ancestors’ days. Our sugars, cortisol levels, heart rates and our BP go up when we see these so called ‘urban tigers’. We cannot run away from today’s ‘urban tigers’. Mostly we sit and endure the fear. If you go for a health check after such encounters your BP and sugars would have have gone up already. Lo and behold you are ‘labelled’ immediately! That adds up, in the long run, to provoke killer diseases like cancer, heart attacks, blood pressure and diabetes.
George Bernard Shaw's The Doctor's Dilemma needs no longer be insulated for his restraint. Now David Wootton painstakingly argues in his short, but undoubtedly explosive new book, Bad Medicine, that the history of medicine has been nothing less than a failure and doctors have been the culprits. Look at a recent audit of coronary stents from Boston. “Despite their benefit, the stents form scar tissue inside the metal sleeve in approximately 20% of patients, and when this occurs, it requires re-treatment with another angioplasty or with coronary bypass surgery. The recurrence rate with so called ‘in-stent’ restenosis is higher than after the first time stent placement, and may occur in 30-80% of patients, depending on the degree of the scar tissue within the stent. Thus far, we have been unable to lower this recurrence rate with medicine, drilling devices, or additional stents. The impact on the lives of those patients who develop ‘stent’ restenosis is profound to say the least,” writes Jeffrey Popma, director of Interventions at Harvard. Books and journals are good enough in their own way, but they are a poor substitute for life’s experiences.
“Don’t confuse your path with your destination,
Because it’s stormy now doesn’t mean,
That you aren’t headed for sunshine.”
(Professor Dr BM Hegde, a Padma Bhushan awardee in 2010, is an MD, PhD, FRCP (London, Edinburgh, Glasgow & Dublin), FACC and FAMS. He is also Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of the Science of Healing Outcomes, chairman of the State Health Society's Expert Committee, Govt of Bihar, Patna. He is former Vice Chancellor of Manipal University at Mangalore and former professor for Cardiology of the Middlesex Hospital Medical School, University of London.)
Elderly population in India is turning into the new customer segment that is large and distinctive with significant purchasing power
Today there is an urgent need to address the wellness of present day Elders, officially designated Senior Citizens, that encompass their physical, emotional, intellectual, social and spiritual needs by looking at them from an entirely new perspective because of their sheer increasing numbers in absolute terms in the demographic divide that now make them an extremely vital segment of the community that require to be reckoned with. One report puts it – “In India, the senior living sector with strength of over 100 million is poised for a significant growth in the years to come.”
Mr. Harish Bhat, MD&CEO of Tata Global Beverages and author of Tata Log: Eight Modern Stories from a Timeless Institutions writing in the Brand Line column of the Hindu Business Line calls upon the marketers to include the Elderly Population of India as the “new customer segment that is large and distinctive with significant purchasing power”. He writes their population increasing, they are also willing to spend reasonable amounts of money on their essential requirements, in many cases their children, who earn good money are also willing to contribute. They have a distinct set of needs – as they may suffer from weak eyesight or infirm hands that are unable to work with small buttons or phone or remote controls with small keys, slippery bar soaps, wrist watches. He suggests easy to use uncomplicated mobiles with large fonts. Also, banks and reality need to develop products to cater to this segment. Besides there is also a significant proportion of this segment who are naturally either obese and of large build or unusually tall or with large waists, wrists and feet who search for ‘jeans that can make them look slimmer’, bathroom slippers that they can easily slip their feet into, cars and airline seats that they can be comfortable in. They even have specific needs of foods and beverages at variance from others.
The FMCG sector too has now come to recognize the fact that the Elders too have truly arrived as a new class of discerning customers:
A recent Research Survey of 1,900 elders from 12 cities in India reveals:
Many reality operators have now zeroed on the seniors to satisfy the growing demand for Senior Care Communities where the lifestyles, socio-economic and healthcare requirements are well taken care of. The developers have jumped into the bandwagon to take a piece of the burgeoning cake of the Assisted Living Community Projects.
Markets are pushing ever higher on the premise that QE will continue almost indefinitely but there are indications that this program would be replaced by something else. The question is whether the new program will be unambiguously favourable for equities and other risk assets
Janet Yellen is the presumed next chairman of the US central bank, the Federal Reserve (Fed). As part of the confirmation process she defended the bond buying program known as quantitative easing or QE. She said that the program has “made a meaningful contribution to economic growth and to the improving outlook”. The financial press took this as a ‘vigorous defense’ of the QE program. It was taken as further proof of Yellen’s dovish monetary bent and that the long delayed QE tapering would not occur until spring of 2014. It is doubtful that she should have said anything else. To cast aspersions at the Fed’s signature program would hardly have been politic even if she had believed that it had problems. But are the general assumptions about QE correct?
Vice Chairman Yellen at least paid lip service to some of the risks of QE. She said that “there are costs and risks associated with the program. We’re monitoring those very carefully.” Still it is at some level embarrassing if other central banks think your programs are the cause and not the cure for global economic instability. The European Central Bank (ECB) on Wednesday issued a stark warning that the coming taper will most likely cause severe market shocks. The ECB is not alone. In its October minutes the Fed specifically stated that the taper was going to start in “a couple of months”.
The reason for ending QE is simple. It hasn’t worked all that well. The US economy is growing, but not by much. The employment situation is getting better, but slowly. The employment rate is down, but only because people are dropping out of the market. Pushing more money into a market without demand tends forces banks and other investors into riskier assets rather than stimulating businesses. US banks have recently increased their holdings of “sliced and diced” securitised securities to a record amount.
Mortgage real estate investment trusts (mREIT) are a more perilous example. These so-called mREITs make money by borrowing short term at low interest rates and buying mortgage-backed securities offering higher yields. They are leveraged with debt to equity ratios of 8 to 1. Their investors include banks, pension, mutual funds and specifically taxable bond funds, some of which hold as much as a third of their holdings in mREITs. mREITS were specifically mentioned by Fed Governor Jeremy Stein and have been the subject of a recent Fed study.
The longer QE goes on the bigger the risks become and the harder it is to exit. Yellen herself acknowledged this in conversations with QE foe, US Senator Robert Corker (R-TN). According to Senator Corker, she said that QE was a “blunt object” that caused distortions. She also said that the Fed may have become a prisoner of its own policies.
Although the Federal Open Market Committee (FMOC), the main instrument for implementing Fed policy will become noticeably hawkish in 2014, there is still continued support for alternative forms of stimulus. So rather than obsessing on the end of QE it might be a better idea to ask what will replace QE. Right now the Fed is in the process of brainstorming. One option was possibility was a cut in interest paid on bank reserves.
Right now the Fed pays banks interest of 0.25% on their reserves including excess reserves, the so called interest on excess reserves rate (IOER). If this were to be cut to zero or 0.1% it would discourage banks from the risk free strategy of banks parking money with the Fed. According to the most recent minutes ‘most’ officials thought this was an option worth considering.
The potential success of this program seems far less than QE. Ben Bernanke himself criticised this policy three years ago. He said that the benefits would be small and that the program “could disrupt some key financial markets and institutions,” and “could lead short-term money markets . . . to become much less liquid.” The policy was considered both in 2011 and 2012 and rejected each time.
US banks were also not happy with the idea. They said that a cut in the IOER could result in banks charging companies and consumers for deposits. They warned that a cut in the 0.25% rate of interest on the $2.4 trillion in reserves they hold at the Fed would lead them to pass on the cost to depositors. Perhaps the fact that ‘most’ officials even considered a rejected program is a measure of their desperation.
A better idea has been the focus on short term interest rates. The present QE focuses on purchases of mortgage securities and treasuries with maturities between four and 30 years. A recent Fed study showed that short term interest rates had a larger effect than long term interest rates. One of the objectives of QE was to bring down longer term interest rates, flatten the yield curve by lowering the term and risk premiums. But the study showed that a sustained decline in long term interest rates by lowering the premium had half the effect of a similar decline brought about by a decline in short term interest rates.
The preferred method of keeping short term interest rates low is through the policy known as Forward Guidance. Basically the Fed promises to keep short term rates near zero for three years. If the market doesn’t believe the promise, the Fed can simply buy more short term notes. The bond market may already reflect this change of policy. Interest on two year note has fallen steadily from 0.52% in early September to 0.29%. The 10 year note was also high at the beginning of September at 2.93%. It fell to 2.48% at the end of October, but has since risen back to 2.74%. The drop of short term interest rates may also be a crucial signal for a December taper.
This threat has worked well for the ECB. Their promise to buy unlimited quantities of government bonds maturing in one to three years from nations that met certain criteria related to their debts was successful in stabilising interest rates for southern European. The threat was so successful that not one bond was ever bought.
Markets are pushing ever higher on the premise that QE will continue almost indefinitely. The danger here is complacency. The Fed and even Janet Yellen have clearly indicated that the program will end, not necessarily because they are happy with the results, but rather they are afraid of the risks. When the program does end, which will probably be sooner than the market thinks, it will most likely be replaced by something else. The question is whether the new program will be unambiguously favourable for equities and other risk assets. The answer is probably not.
(William Gamble is president of Emerging Market Strategies. An international lawyer and economist, he developed his theories beginning with his first-hand experience and business dealings in the Russia starting in 1993. Mr Gamble holds two graduate law degrees. He was educated at Institute D'Etudes Politique, Trinity College, University of Miami School of Law, and University of Virginia Darden Graduate School of Business Administration. He was a member of the bar in three states, over four different federal courts and has spoken four languages.)