Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Friday, February 23, 2018

American Exceptionalism

I have commented before on the falling life expectancy in the United States, following two decades during which gains lagged those in the other wealthy countries. I previously linked to this editorial in BMJ by two Americans, and I emphasized their discussion of the opioid epidemic, alcohol abuse and suicide as key factors in the recent decline. I put less emphasis on life expectancy in the U.S. falling behind in the longer term.

While the U.S. is among the wealthiest countries, it has a higher poverty rate than most others, and provides far less in the way of basic family support, educational opportunity, and health care access. It is true that ordinary people have felt that the federal government has largely ignored their problems and that many people have been drawn to a so-called "populist" message of protest. But the message they heard, and responded to, was a lie.

The struggles Americans face are not caused by immigration, or international trade, or tax money going to a secret welfare program that only Blah people can get. Here's the policy prescription from Woolf and Aron:

In theory, policy makers jolted by the shortening lifespan of Americans would hasten to correct these conditions. They would promote education, boost support for children and families, increase wages and economic opportunity for the working class, invest in distressed communities, and strengthen healthcare and behavioral health systems. But the pro-business policy agenda favored by elected officials rarely prioritizes these needs. On the contrary, recent legislation and regulations may prolong or intensify the economic burden on the middle class and weaken access to healthcare and safety net programs.
Exactly. The people who voted for the orange psychopath who now occupies the White House got hosed. But it seems they will never wake up to it.

Update: Here's Yale Historian Timothy Snyder talking with Chauncey DeVega:

Trump is not a populist. He does not actually deliver anything of an economic or socially positive nature. But he is delivering something psychological to his base. It's the sense that "maybe we're hurting, but other people are hurting worse, and that's what we like." The design of Trump is to change politics from a positive-sum game where the idea is that everybody's going to do a little bit better because we're going to have better policies, to a negative-sum game where you're not doing anything for people in Virginia or Pennsylvania or Ohio. However, Trump is going to offer them a spectacle in which other people doing worse. The public gets caught up in the spectacle and that is what people then begin to expect from politics.
For example, Americans on average are leading shorter lives -- which is completely anomalous in the developed world -- and that's going to keep happening. But meanwhile, some of the people who are suffering the most are immigrants or blacks or Muslims. The psychological pleasure and joy for Trump's public from this horrible situation means they feel like they are on the right side of things. It's about pain. Trump's public may feel like they are hurting, but their leader is hurting other people worse and that feels good.
Tell it like it is.


Gay Boy Bob said...

Really like this post.

The article that attempts to explain the shorter lifespans of Americans as compared to other developed countries seems to focus on lifestyle differences such as obesity and resulting diabetes, alcohol consumption, suicides and economic factors.

Fair enough.

What's really hard to wrap my brain around is the second article by Dr. Snyder that somehow this all happened in the last 13 months, Trump is the beast and that Trump supporters really are happy to see others suffer.

Cervantes said...

It didn't happen in the last 13 months, the point is that the political attitudes that led to the last 13 months have plagued us for the last 20 years.

Gay Boy Bob said...

What Dr. Snyder et al may be feeling is what the other side felt when Obama was elected. Many on the right were very afraid for democracy.

Obama promised to "fundamentally change America". So, where was the fear and outcry then?

Where was the gnashing of teeth when Obama announced in frustration with congress that he "had a pen and he had a phone" signaling his agenda was more important than the democratic process? That he "would act if congress wouldn't". (And he did).

Where was the anxiety in the press at that time?

So now the right is not in fear as their guy now uses the same executive powers to advance his agenda and the left is freaking out.

Look, Trump was duly elected. FBI says it was a fair election and Russia had no influence in the outcome so let's just get that out of the way. And Trump has used lawful means to advance his agenda.

And all this hysteria about Trump being a "strongman" government and democracy is in danger, etc. is specious. It's a great story that can be sold to those still upset with an election result that has halted the slow creep of socialism that had been welcomed and accepted as inevitable.

My advice to my friends on the left is to keep all of this in perspective.