Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Die-Off You Don't See

In an article I wrote a few weeks back that seems to have gotten somewhat popular, I pointed out that what is often toted as a "die-off" is not likely to occur in a dramatic fashion where some major event causes huge amounts of bodies to pile up in the streets or dramatic battles among starving masses as some people seem to envision. No, in reality it's likely to happen in a much less noticeable fashion, hidden, piecemeal, out of sight of the mainstream focused on the immediate news of the here-and-now. Like the proverbial frog in boiling water, it will happen in a fashion not noticeable to the masses to prevent a response. Keep in mind that 99.9 percent of us here today will be dead one hundred years from now (unless the singularitarians are correct), so all it takes is higher death rates and slumped birth rates to cause a die-off. And there is ever more evidence that we are experiencing exactly that. To wit, in The New York Times:
The prospects for the re-employment of older workers deteriorate sharply the longer they are unemployed. A worker between ages 50 and 61 who has been unemployed for 17 months has only about a 9 percent chance of finding a new job in the next three months. A worker who is 62 or older and in the same situation has only about a 6 percent chance. As unemployment increases in duration, these slim chances drop steadily.

The result is nothing short of a national emergency. Millions of workers have been disconnected from the work force, and possibly even from society. If they are not reconnected, the costs to them and to society will be grim.

Unemployment is almost always a traumatic event, especially for older workers. A paper by the economists Daniel Sullivan and Till von Wachter estimates a 50 to 100 percent increase in death rates for older male workers in the years immediately following a job loss, if they previously had been consistently employed. This higher mortality rate implies that a male worker displaced in midcareer can expect to live about one and a half years less than a worker who keeps his job.

There are various reasons for this rise in mortality. One is suicide. A recent study found that a 10 percent increase in the unemployment rate (say from 8 to 8.8 percent) would increase the suicide rate for males by 1.47 percent. This is not a small effect. Assuming a link of that scale, the increase in unemployment would lead to an additional 128 suicides per month in the United States. The picture for the long-term unemployed is especially disturbing. The duration of unemployment is the dominant force in the relationship between joblessness and the risk of suicide.

Joblessness is also associated with some serious illnesses, although the causal links are poorly understood. Studies have found strong links between unemployment and cancer, with unemployed men facing a 25 percent higher risk of dying of the disease. Similarly higher risks have been found for heart disease and psychiatric problems.
Dean Baker and Kevin Hassett: The Human Disaster of Unemployment

And it's not just the workforce: even in their formative years, American teenagers are dying faster:
American teenagers have the highest rates of drug and alcohol abuse in the developed world. And they are far more likely to be killed by violence than peers in Europe.

This lost generation, whose unemployment rate is 20 percent, leads the modern world in some of the most dangerous and irresponsible behaviors, according to a new study released by the Lancet medical journal.

The shocking data was released to highlight cultural neglect occurring in the adolescents and young adults -- too many of whom die young, according to the researchers behind the publication.

Not all the news is bad. American teens appear to have the highest rates of exercise in the developed world.

Despite this, American teens, age 13 to 15 are dramatically more likely to be overweight, leading the western world, according to the data.

Among the most startling discoveries of the Lancet data is how much higher the rates of teen violent death are in the US than the rest of the developed world.

About 17 in 100,000 teen boys age 15 to 19 are killed by violence. The next two closest countries are Israel and Switzerland, with four.

Britain's rate is just one.
U.S. teens worst in western world for binge-drinking, drugs and violent deaths

And as for the elderly, well, things aren't looking good. Naked Capitalism referred to this article: Your retirement health-care tab will run $240,000 with the comment: "The plan is clearly to have old people die faster." Do you have 240,000 laying around for health care? And that comment is echoed once again in this article from the same site, which concludes:
I’ve never understood when (once in a while) someone (clearly young) shows up in comments and rails against Social Security and Medicare because of the burden it imposes on him. Now I get it. The student debt issue is deepening social fractures. If young people are asked to stand on their own, and given only unpalatable choices (forego a college degree, the entrance ticket to middle class life, or accept debt slavery at a tender age), no wonder they adopt a “devil take the hindmost” attitude. I hope some of these people who so cavalierly argue for loading up the next generation with debt realize that the young may not want to take care of them either, and they are far more at risk. The outcome of cutting social safety nets to the elderly ultimately means that old people will die faster.
Does anyone at this point think the jobs are going to come back? That Medicare and Social Security will be saved? that health care will become affordable or that health care" insurance" will not bleed the Boomers dry of money, leaving nothing for the next generation already sunk under debt? As I said, thus it proceeds.

Keep in mind, our leaders have the absolute best education for their own children and have health care par exellance for themselves (how many bypasses has Cheney had?). They live in exclusive communities with armies of people to protect them from the constituents that they "serve". As long as that continues, does anyone believe any of this is going to reverse course without some sort of revolution?


  1. It's really not a surprise that a culture with such a short-term, live-for-today outlook would automatically assume that collapse would happen overnight (if at all).

    What I'm interested in are the changes that are occurring within American culture to accommodate this process.

    For instance, it's a fact that young people are much less likely to our a car than their parents were at their age. It's been said that cars just aren't viewed as being cool by young people anymore. But could this just be a cultural adaptation to in response to young people not being able to afford to drive?


  2. You need to bone up on basic economics. The supply of money is as infinite as the supply of zeroes in a computer. The obvious solution to the problem of youth unemployment and retiree lust for consuming healthcare is to put the young to work providing that healthcare, and that is happening, slowly but surely. The boom in healthcare will go on for another two decades, at least, financed by deficit spending. The hysteria about the deficit among the Republicans is just a smoke screen. Ever since Reagan, it has always been the Republicans who love deficit spending the most. Anyway, the only real argument against deficit spendign is that it causes wage inflation, but there can be no wage inflation as long as unemployment is high.

    Because you are economically ignorant, let me explain this in a way that does not involve money: simply draft the unemployed young and assign them jobs providing healthcare to the elderly. A draft is impossible? Very well, bring back vagrancy laws and imprison the young and force them to work. Putting people to work is easy. Getting results from make-work is another story, but then that is not a problem with healthcare, since the healthcare sector doesn't really care about results.

    What could be a problem with a healthcare economy is if the elderly wake up to the fact that healthcare is actually a scam and hospitals are the last place to go when you are sick. Doctors are indeed great at trauma--broken bones, cuts, babies that get stuck in the birth canal--where both problem and solution can be easily explained and visualized, but they are a downright menace for most everything else. Luckily, only a very small percentage of us think this way and I can't imagine American culture ever coming round to my point of view that less is more most of the time where healthcare is concerned. So the demand for healthcare is essentially infinite. Within a few years, the problem of insufficient demand in the economy will disappear, due to the booming healthcare sector, and there should be no further shortfalls of demand or mass unemployment for decades to come. There will be hospitals in every congressional district, filled to the brim with defective babies and their drug-addled mothers, brain-dead elderly (Terry Schiavo), veterans with their arms and legs blown off, plus run-of-the-mill elderly who are bored out of their minds and have nothing better to do than visit the doctor and ask for more pills and colonoscopies and other quack treatments from the pretty young nurses. Lots of make-work to make everyone happy, including the wealthy who own stock in the hospitals and pharmaceutical companies.

    The only reason the wealthy are currently opposed to spending more on healthcare is because they own bonds and benefit from the ongoing deflation, and because they want to sabotage the Obama presidency. But the rich are steadily exchanging their bonds for stocks, just as they previously exchanged stocks for bonds during the bubbles year. Once the rich own mostly stocks and the middle-class suckers own mostly bonds, the rich will be willing to accept inflation. In addition to slamming the small savers with their deposit accounts and bonds, inflation will also wipe out a lot of pension liabilities, which is something the rich want done. You may hear that back in the 1970's, inflation hurt stocks, but that was mostly due to tax laws prevailing then. Now that tax laws aremore favorable to corporations and the wealthy, inflation shouldn't be so damaging to stocks.

    1. As someone with a chronic medical condition I've been in and out of hospitals for years. Some are better than others, but contrary to your belief, Frank, they do try to heal people and often succeed. As someone who works in healthcare, I think I can safely say you obviously don't work in a hospital and never have. With your negativity about it, I think we all hope you never do. When I am ill enough to require hospitalization, I think my chances are better with someone who choose to heal rather than castigate.

    2. Err, that would be chose, not choose.

    3. Because you are economically ignorant, let me explain this in a way that does not involve money...

      I appreciate people's opinions, but I do not appreciate being insulted. If you cannot be polite, than please do me a favor and fuck off. I don't give a shit whether you read this blog or not.


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