A paper by Nobel winner Angus Deaton and Anne Case describes a rising mortality since 1999 among middle-aged white Americans – while death rates were falling among other groups in the United States. Among whites suicide is up, and so are deaths from drug poisoning and liver disease caused by excessive drinking. It reminds some of us of the drop in the life expectancy figures that followed the "fall of communism" in Russia. The drop in Russia was associated with despair, believe it or not, and a new sense of insecurity. The end of Communist Party socialism was not accompanied by a new hope in anything like a new Russian Dream similar to the American Dream that Republicans in the US are fond of talking about.
Deaton describes some whites as disappointed that the American Dream didn't come true. The Right sees the despair as the fault of liberals. Breitbart.com headlines:
Obama's bad economy helps kill almost 500,000 middle age white people.
The liberal economist Paul Krugman writes:
If you believe the usual suspects on the right, it's all the fault of liberals. Generous social programs, they insist, have created a culture of dependency and despair, while secular humanists have undermined traditional values. But (surprise!) this view is very much at odds with the evidence.
He writes that,
Life expectancy is high and rising in the Northeast and California, where social benefits are highest and traditional values weakest. Meanwhile, low and stagnant or declining life expectancy is concentrated in the Bible Belt.
A comment sent to the New York Times by a woman who calls herself Cassandra reads,
The lack of good jobs (caused by "free trade") is the key; blacks and Latinos handled this better since they had lower expectations. Remember, the best blue collar jobs were never as available to them as to whites.
Aging never comes alone, and is not pleasant. So when this unfortunate group aged, for them it was like the straw which broke the camel's back.
Since our trade policy created this problem, its reversal would cure it.
I have a brother who calls himself a libertarian and votes Republican because he believes social programs take money away from productive people (like him) and give it to lazy slackers who could get jobs if they really tried but would rather sit around and laugh at him for working.
Now in his 50s he finds himself in the beginning stages of a degenerative disease that may make it impossible for him to work. If he were forced to rely on disability benefits, which he has so often spoken out about in anger, I wonder if he might consider suicide as an alternative.
He sees people who need social programs as losers. He's staked his identity on that idea, so when he finds he himself needs help, his very identity is called into question.
Copyright © 2016 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.