Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Rising Suicide Rates Are Due to Collectivism, Not Individualism

          Jason Bellini of the Wall Street Journal interviews Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton, who observe that white American suicide rates have increased since 1999. During the same time period, suicide rates have not increased in Europe, and they have not increased among African Americans.  However, suicide rates have long been higher in many countries, including Finland and Japan.

The two biggest demographic segments affected by increasing suicide rates are the Southwest-and-Rocky Mountain region, which is among the more individualistic regions, and Americans without a college degree, who are twice as likely to commit suicide than Americans with a degree.  

Case and Deaton’s explanations don’t much extend the 125-year-old work of Emile Durkheim in his book Suicide.   For instance, they observe that increased individuality, especially in religion, may be associated with suicide, although they find no hard statisical evidence of a relationship.  Durkheim found that education raises suicide rates; perhaps increased education rates, short of college graduation, are having the reverse effect of what Case and Deaton claim. 

Durkheim, offered an explanation of suicide in addition to individualism and education: Increased social control.  According to Business Insider, the countries with the highest suicide rates in 2014 were Lithuania, South Korea, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, China, India, Sri Lanka, Japan, Hungary Latvia, Ukraine, Moldova, Slovenia Finland, and Belgium. France has a higher suicide rate than the US.  These high-suicide rate countries are not characterized by individualism but rather by informal or authoritarian collectivism. Hence, Case and Deaton’s claim that the rise in suicide rates is due to the US’s lack of Finnish or French dirigisme appears ideologically motivated. 

Case and Deaton emphasize the lack of economic opportunity that has evolved since 1971, when the Federal Reserve Bank’s pure paper money system facilitated enhanced subsidization of the financial and computer technology industries.  Access to credit has been diverted from rural America to select, elite industries, and rural areas have been starved of credit. As well, American banks have subsidized plant relocations to China, and the Chinese provinces currently owe one trillion dollars to them.  

These government policies have reflected elite interests. It is not American free market capitalism that has been hard on workers, as Case and Deaton seem to claim, but American progressivism and government intervention, which have  amounted to a nonstop welfare-and-bailout program for billionaire donors to Princeton University.

 Rather than emphasize declining opportunity for self-actualizing entrepreneurship due to the increased involvement of government in the economy since the 1960s and relentless Fed subsidization of Wall Street, Case and Deaton emphasize the lack of a European-style welfare state even though socialist countries dominate the list of high-suicide-rate countries.

  Rather, it may be that Americans, who prefer individualism and self-actualization, have been increasingly stifled by the Great Society policies beloved by the Princeton elite.

 Case and Deaton note that life expectancy has been declining for the past two years, and that this may reflect underlying trends that may result in a Constitutional crisis. Maybe so, but the reaction of the rural, white population to declining opportunity has been different from what Case and Deaton advocate. Rural Americans voted for Donald Trump, who has deregulated industry and taken other steps to increase economic opportunity. Belorussian policies don't seem high on the priority list of rural Americans.

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