Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The good, the bad and the ugly

The revival of the Pakistani economy has triggered a bout of conspicuous consumption which, inevitably for a developing country, thus far hase been largely confined to imported indulgences. Yet, Pakistani entrepreneurs appear to have stumbled upon a way to reverse the flow of precious dollars: cosmetic tourism. Expatriate Pakistanis with cash to spare and looking to shed their flab, get a headful of hair or a curvier figure are heading to the homeland to have these surgical procedures performed at a fraction of the cost in the West.

Yet, exploitation in the medical sector is never far off. The vanity clinics have more sinister counterparts who prey on the desperation of the impoverished as they ply their trade in human organs. Clearly government regulation is required in both areas: the poor may viscerally attract more sympathy and face the more acute risk of medical malfeasance, but cosmetic surgery has its own book of horrors.

The two businesses also combine to make an elementary point on state regulation: whichever way you go on the economic ladder, the state must regulate the medical sector to protect public health. Obviously regulation is easier when you're climbing up the economic ladder rather than going downwards. However, as Pakistan climbs that ladder it is imperative that our government be reminded not to neglect the people languishing on the lower rungs.

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