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The reconciliation bill is a much-needed opportunity to invest in prevention

By John K. Roman and Diana Fishbein, opinion contributors — 11/11/21

American policy, foreign and domestic, is mainly about interventions. Should troops be deployed to intervene in hot zones around the world? How should police intervene in neighborhoods to restore order? Should the government use its economic powers to intervene in the markets, to break up corporate giants, to make workers whole after they are harmed by market failures, to save Wall Street from times of egregious self-indulgence?

No one is arguing problems should not be fixed when they emerge. But every fix is at least a tacit admission of a policy failure — an acknowledgment that a problem was not prevented before it started.

Prevention is not a sexy topic. But almost every great triumph by the American government of the last 50 years has been fought and won by carefully applying sound prevention principles. Fighting enemies and taking a hard line against social ills may win the cable ratings but prevention wins the war.

For 50 years, prevention science has generated practices that have improved countless lives by reducing risk factors and strengthening the conditions for individuals, families and communities to thrive. What distinguishes prevention from reactionary approaches is the focus on using prevention to create new human and social capital. Prevention does not simply put a band-aid on a wound, it seeks to avoid the injury.

And it works. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has historically issued reviews of public health successes over the past decade and even the past century. Those lists are dominated by prevention victories.

Seat belts, child safety seats, motorcycle helmets, and drinking and driving regulations have made our roads far safer even as they grow more crowded. The food we eat contains vastly fewer contaminants and is more nutritious. Family planning and contraception have reduced infant, child and maternal death by 90 percent since 1900. Teen pregnancy has significantly decreased. And workplace deaths have declined by more than 40 percent just since 1980.

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