The invisibility of public health: population-level measures in a politics of market individualism

Am J Public Health. 1997 Oct;87(10):1607-10. doi: 10.2105/ajph.87.10.1607.


This paper models the prevailing political attack on government as a heuristic, a judgmental strategy that simplifies complex phenomena by applying simple tests to a limited set of relevant data. The heuristic of market individualism offers three tools for analyzing the problems of governing: the supremacy of the free market as a regulatory device, a belief in individual freedom of choice and personal responsibility, and the elevation of individual satisfaction as the chief goal of society. Because public health is inherently concerned with the health of the population rather than individual health, because the market itself is a major source of ill health, and because individual choice is socially mediated, use of the heuristic precludes the recognition of the value of public health work. Although some degree of accommodation to current political realities is a practical necessity, public health advocates must not neglect the task of fashioning radically different alternative visions over the long term.

MeSH terms

  • Choice Behavior
  • Health Policy*
  • Humans
  • Individuality
  • Politics
  • Public Health*
  • United States