plonkee money

August 28, 2008

personal finance is like public health

Filed under: philosophical — Tags: , , , , , — plonkee @ 6:00 pm

I drink far too much caffeine

I have an excuse though. At work we get free (instant) coffee and tea, and I don’t like tea. Of course, that’s a simplification. After complaints, there’s now a choice of coffees, you can have Fairtrade caffeinated coffee, Nescafe caffeinated coffee or Nescafe decaffeinated coffee. I’m not a big fan of Nestle, and I do like to trade fair so I drink the Fairtrade caffeinated coffee.

what was wrong with Nestle?

Does anyone remember The Mark Thomas Comedy Project, where the comedian campaigned against various unethical practices and did a stand-up show about the experiences? That’s what put me onto the idea that Nescafe are one of the least ethical companies for their gross marketing of formula milk in the third world. This is formula milk without necessarily having instructions that people can understand, and suggesting in advertising that it is somehow better than breast milk. Not cool.

so is baby feeding that simple?

These days, the situation is somewhat more nuanced, as many public health issues are. The complications are caused by the HIV/Aids epidemic. Breast feeding is better than bottle feeding, unless the mother is HIV+. In that case, not passing on the virus through breast milk is more important than the nutritional benefits of breast milk (all formula milk is safe to use as directed), and of course in some areas of the developing world HIV/Aids is endemic, particularly amongst people of childbearing age.

Think it’s sorted? Wait a minute. Although the risk of an infant catching HIV through breast milk is approximately %, there’s another hitch. Formula milk is expensive and not everyone can afford it. It requires clean water, which not everyone has access to (certainly not clean enough to give a newborn). Where everyone breastfeeds, mothers who bottlefeed can be stigmatised and mixed feeding is more dangerous than breastfeeding. The instructions are not always clear enough for people to understand, or may be in a foreign language. For a significant number of mothers and children, the risk of contracting HIV through breastmilk is less important in the survival of the child than the risk that they will be malnourished or get sick by being given poorly prepared formula.

So the final answer for mothers of new babies is that you should breastfeed, unless you are HIV+ in which case you should bottle feed, unless you can’t safely/easily make up formula milk over the first 6-12 months, in which case you should breastfeed. Can you see the catchy slogan now?

and what does this have to do with personal finance?

Like I said, public health issues are nuanced. Much like personal finance issues. There’s never a single right answer that suits everybody in every circumstance all the time. Sure, you should live within your means, but that’s like saying that you should feed your baby – not big on the practical details. And for everything else, from whether you should pay off debts before saving, to how much you should contribute to kids college, to how much money you’ll need in retirement, the only simple true answer is, it depends. Because personal finance, is well, personal.

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