Category Archives: Krugman

Capitalism kills – even the middle class

This year’s Nobel laureate in economics[1], Angus Deaton (and his wife Anne Case, not to forget) has published an interesting study on mortality among white Americans compared to other groups and nationalities. Their astonishing findings can be illustrated in one single picture:

white americans

Sources: Anne Case and Angus Deaton; PNAS

Immediate reasons behind the soaring death rate among white Americans are self destructive behavior patterns such as alcohol and drug abuse, or direct suicide. As an explanation on the next level Paul Krugman[2] suggests existential despair.

Krugman points to the similarities between this US experience and the plunging life expectancy in Russia after the capitalist revolution in the 1990s that claimed ten millions lives, mostly men in productive ages (a catastrophe we have mentioned repeatedly on these pages). Two American scholars, David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu, have described the post-communist mortality in The Body Economics: Why Austerity Kills (Basic Books, 2013). The following picture shows life expectancy from birth for men in USA and Russia:

Life expectancy

Source: Stuckler & Basu (2013)

The Russian experience in the 1990s was really dire. Multi-millions of jobs disappeared. Many of the small and medium-sized “mono cities”, with usually just one dominant factory, simply closed down, leaving abandoned and crumbling buildings and remnants of retired citizens behind. Men in productive ages couldn’t bear it and accounted for most of the ten million who just disappeared for ever.

Astonishingly similar in Russia and US are the causes of death. In both countries alcohol and drug abuse play an important role, together with suicide. In Russia also other diagnoses soared, such as myocardial infarction among young men, otherwise rare. Stuckler & Sanjay mentions “social stress” as a syndrome underlying the deaths. Many men seem to have an innate pride, requiring that they are able to support themselves and their families. Bereaved every possibility to fulfill this task they appear to lose the purpose of life.

Deaton & Case conclude that the absolute level of despair isn’t the decisive factor behind the self destructive behavior. Instead they suggest that the middle-aged whites in America have “lost the narratives of their lives”. It seems to be more a question about the distance they have to fall when they exit from a higher altitude. Or in Krugman’s words: “we’re looking at people who were raised to believe in the American Dream, and are coping badly with its failure to come true”.

Krugman again: “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.” It’s exotic for a Swede that there are influential conservatives in the United States who believe the unbelievable, reject the obvious and denounce reason; more so that they dominate the Congress and threaten to capture the presidency; and are doing so supported by billions of dollars from the corporate sector. In the most powerful nation that ever existed! The world must take a deep breath.

 

Notes:

[1] This is an honor to mention only when one thinks the Prize Committee has made a decent choice. Otherwise it’s an affront to Nobel that the Swedish National Bank instituted this prize in his name for something that perhaps Nobel, like many of us, wouldn’t even call a real science.

[2] In a recent New York Times’ column.

My collected reader’s comments to NYT articles

Follows a collection of commentaries I’ve made in the New York Times Reader’s Comments section on different articles (mostly for me keeping track of them myself). They’ll be accessible as long as NYT keeps the links alive, I suppose.

31 January 2015. A comment on the vaccine debate that followed the recent outbreak of measles in U.S.:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/31/us/as-measles-spreads-in-us-so-does-anxiety.html?comments#permid=13989276
-.-.-.-

25 March 2015. On signs of increasing poverty albeit growing wealth in the society (Sweden) as a whole:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/25/opinion/how-poor-are-the-poor.html?comments#permid=14521337
-.-.-.-

30 March 2015. On the horrific number of deaths in China during the Mao era, which we constantly are reminded of, compared to the even larger mortality caused by capitalism in India – which we very seldom hear of:

http://sinosphere.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/03/30/cambodian-historians-call-for-china-to-confront-its-own-past/?comments#permid=14562852:14581199
-.-.-.-

3 April 2015. Another complete imbalance in our fields of interest: our laser-like scrutiny of terrorism carried out by others, compared to the forbearance with our own, much graver and deadlier terrorist activities:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/03/world/africa/garissa-university-college-shooting-in-kenya.html?comments#permid=14598017:14604023
-.-.-.-

9 May 2015. This article appeared simultaneously in NYT and Dagens Nyheter (Sweden), not surprisingly. It’s that kind of text our propaganda model loves: a Russian author who more or less regrets that his country defeated Nazi Germany in WWII. He just thinks that one oppression was replaces by another, obviously unaware of the Nazi’s Generalplan Ost which aimed at exterminating most people in Russia and enslaving the rest. This was not some high-flying Nazi plan or empty threat, it was implemented from day one of the German invasion. The existence of the special Sonderkommando with the explicit task to exterminate Jews, Communists and other unwanted humans was the terrible evidence of that reality.

One could have hoped that NYT and DN had been kind enough to save the poor ignorant (or just propagandistic) author from his embarrassment, but the temptation to publish his sentimental excesses was maybe to overwhelming. As some Readers’ Comments point out, the article was also a slap in the face on Putin and Russia, on the very day, sacred for Russians, of commemorating the death of 27 million people which Russia had to sacrifice to defeat the most atrocious and inhuman ideology in all history: Nazism.

An interesting difference: Dagens Nyheter didn’t open its comment section on this article, as opposed to New York Times. This is one reflection on the difference in effective freedom of expression which is taken much more seriously in the U.S. than in Europe. My comment, like some other critical ones, was listed as “NYT Pick” by the editor, another sign of openness for critique. But on the other hand: the propaganda gain was taken home by the printed article. (I suppose that the reader’s comments are mostly read by the commentators themselves.)

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/09/opinion/mikhail-shishkin-how-russians-lost-the-war.html?comments#permid=14915384
-.-.-.-

11 May 2015. A comment on one of Paul Krugman’s many enlightened columns in NYT.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/11/opinion/paul-krugman-wall-street-vampires.html#permid=14932711
-.-.-

17 May 2015. An article on the prospects for western economy after the last collapse, with discussions about singularities, neglecting the overall picture.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/17/upshot/dont-be-so-sure-the-economy-will-return-to-normal.html?comments#permid=14975427

MSM: Sweden vs. USA, plus Krugman on inequality

An anecdote has it that Noam Chomsky grinds his teeth when he reads the New York Times. But he also recognizes that there is some serious and professional reporting alongside the skillful but goofy propaganda stream. One can say the same about the Swedish Dagens Nyheter, save the level of professionalism. Thus I subscribe to the NYT web edition to get a broader outlook, apart from it being somewhat less pathetically “mainstreamed” than DN.

When it comes to the selection and presentation of the kind of world news that has to be aligned in accordance with the propaganda model, the similarities between DN and NYT are striking. The material is probably molded already in news agencies, and then DN seems to snitch from NYT and others. Often the wording is identical, and certainly the bias. But there are some differences. Especially interesting is what kind of “big news” in USA that becomes “no news” in Swedish media.

To name one example: Citizens United, a central concept in US debate which is carefully kept out of media in Sweden for reasons one can only speculate on. Is it the fact that the Supreme Court’s decision is incomprehensible for most people here, who probably would compare it with codifying unlimited corruption?

Another more random example is the Cliven Bundy case, which has passed almost unnoticed here. It’s not that violence or crimes as such are censored, on the contrary. Events like school shootings and other mass murders in the US are covered intensely by media, so the difference opens the field for speculations again. Is it that crimes committed by individuals have limited implications for the society, whilst the Bundy insubordination revealed a weak public authority that opened for mafia-like actions challenging law and order (thus degrading USA)? It’s anyone’s guess.

On the Ukraine issue Swedish MSM has a completely one-eyed view applied to both commentary and news reporting alike, a view postulating that Vladimir Putin is the master villain responsible for everything horrible that happens. Thus we are not shared any inclusive reports on for instance the shelling of innocent civilians or the hardship people in Luhansk suffers, or anything else outrageous that the Ukrainian government is responsible for. In this case NYT has a more professional attitude and once in a while sends a reporter to give readers a more complete picture. (I’ve mentioned earlier one reason for this difference, namely that Russophobia, through some kind of epigenetic mechanism, seem to have become inherent in Swedish genes.)

With the morning coffee I consequently browse quickly through the DN site, continue with NYT to stop for some reading and then spend more time with The Nation and other informative links. In my opinion the prime voice of reason in NYT is Paul Krugman, an economist differing from many of his colleagues by using his brain instead of reflexively rely on dogmas from a depleted science. His progressive views are so rare in NYT that he appears to be a kind of liberal alibi for the prestigious paper.

(A cute parenthesis: for subscribers NYT has a top-10-list labeled “Recommended for you”. In analogue cases most sites has a simple plug-in that keeps track on visitor’s preferences, so that recommendations really reflect the reader’s interests. Not so the NYT; here “recommended” obviously means what the editor think I should read; hence links on that list very rarely fit my liking. But to find a link to Paul Krugman I just have to click on “Most read” or “Most emailed” instead, where Krugman’s columns regularly appear among the top hits.)

In his column today (ranked No 1 in “Most emailed”) Krugman has some really intelligent and informative commentaries on “Our Invisible Rich”. Developments have gone to such an extreme the last decades that people just can’t grasp how grotesque the inequality has become. In a recent survey people in various countries were asked how much they thought top executives of major companies make relative to unskilled workers. In the United States the median respondent believed that chief executives make about 30 times as much as their employees (which was roughly true in the 1960s) compared to the real figure which is something like 300 times more, not to mention the really lucky, like the top hedge fund managers, who pick up some 10 000 times more than an ordinary employee.

To this one may remark that neither Aristotle nor James Madison thought that such an unbelievable development would ever be possible. Both took for granted that a majority in a democracy would vote to expel inequalities of that kind, but they chose different solutions to the problem. Aristotle concluded that society had to accept equality as a basic principle, while Madison preferred democracy to be limited. One way for Madison to achieve this was to establish a senate not elected directly by voters. It turned out that Madison was too cautious; he had no clue as to what modern propaganda would be capable of in the coming centuries. Today the super rich are safer than ever from any democratic threats, though the senate nowadays is appointed directly by voters.

It’s not that people’s preferences are unknown. If they estimate the high boss’s salaries to be 30 times higher, they would prefer the difference to be considerably less. The tool to achieve that is called democratic struggle, and that is something bound to come – trough collective action.