The Washington Post ran a front-page story the other day about the "health gap" between Eastern and Western Europe. "As Hungary and nine other countries prepare to join the European Union next May, the bloc's leaders are paying much attention to closing the ‘wealth gap' between the low-income, former communist East and the affluent West. But little has been said about the equally wide ‘health gap.' ... Hungary ranked first in the world for the rate of cancer deaths among men and women in 2000, according to the American Cancer Society. For men, the other Eastern European countries held the second through seventh places. ... A person born in Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia or Poland is likely to have a shorter life than someone born in Sweden, Italy, Spain or France."
What's interesting about this story (aside from the obvious) is that it so casually acknowledges a reality that was, until very recently, hotly denied by the kinds of people who write for The Washington Post. I refer to the fact that in all ways , including quality of life and very much including health care, the communist countries were vastly inferior to the free West.
During the Cold War, liberals were always telling us that while the communist states certainly could not claim to have political liberty, they had outperformed the harsh, capitalist West in terms of social services. The communist health care systems were very much lauded and admired. Why, in the Soviet Union, they gushed, health care was "free" and nearly all of the doctors were women. A two-fer!
As I recount in my recent book "Useful Idiots," liberals remained melancholy about communism's passing for several years following the fall of the Berlin Wall. Much of the post-1989 reporting from the region was characterized by nostalgia for the communist era. On April 11, 1990, CBS's Bert Quint filed a report from Poland: "This is Marlboro country, Southeastern Poland, a place where the transition from communism to capitalism is making people more miserable every day. ... No lines at the shops now, but plenty at some of the first unemployment centers in a part of the world where socialism used to guarantee everybody a job."