Life under capitalism: Early deaths a ‘silver lining’ for corporations

Participating in Monday evening’s demonstration at the Trump Tower in Manhattan, I couldn’t help thinking of the connections between a Bloomberg article proclaiming that people dying earlier contains a “silver lining” because corporations will save pension costs and the ongoing savagery of the Trump administration.

Not simply the naked symbiosis between the Trump administration and white supremacists, neo-Nazis and assorted far-right cranks — all too sadly on display in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend — but the alliance of corporate titans, Republican Party leaders and President Trump himself. The rush by even conservative congressional Republicans to condemn the tweeter-in-chief for his refusal to condemn his so-called “alt-right” allies for two days should not distract us from the Trump administration’s all-out assault on regulations, civil rights laws, health care and the environment. (Let’s please retire the useless term “alt-right” and call them what they are: white supremacists, fascists and fascist wannabes.)

The health care system of the United States is already by far the world’s most expensive while delivering among the worst results. So of course the solution to this, in Republican eyes, is to make it worse. That effort has, so far, failed, thanks to massive grassroots activism. But plenty else is being rammed through under the radar through executive decrees — which is why we shouldn’t hold our breath waiting for Congress to impeach President Trump. He’s much too useful to Republicans and corporate executives. Should that change, of course, all bets are off, but short a Democratic tidal wave in 2018 Republican members of Congress turning on the president anytime soon isn’t likely.

On the march against Trump in New York City August 14 (photo by Mark Apollo/Hashtag Occupy Media)

So what does this have to do with an article published by Bloomberg? The headline on this particular article says it all: “Americans Are Dying Younger, Saving Corporations Billions,” complete with a subhead declaring “lower pension costs” a “silver lining.” As not only a proud member of the corporate media, but one specializing in delivering news to financiers and industrialists, extolling a benefit to corporate bottom lines and ignoring the, ahem, human cost of said benefit is only to be expected. The article is not at all atypical of the business press, even if this one is a little more obvious than usual.

But, as a friend who is an activist with a Marxist party but who once ran a chemical industry consultancy by day (if only his clients knew his politics!) once taught me, the business section is where they hide the news. So the point here isn’t the attitude of Bloomberg toward working people (no more hostile and sometimes less so than your average business publication) but the attitude of corporate titans toward employees. The article states:

“In 2015, the American death rate—the age-adjusted share of Americans dying—rose slightly for the first time since 1999. And over the last two years, at least 12 large companies, from Verizon to General Motors, have said recent slips in mortality improvement have led them to reduce their estimates for how much they could owe retirees by upward of a combined $9.7 billion, according to a Bloomberg analysis of company filings.”

Austerity costs human lives

Gains in U.S. death rates had been improving until 2009, Bloomberg reports, citing a Society of Actuaries analysis, but those rates then flattened before reversing in 2015. This isn’t necessarily unique to the U.S. — the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries in the United Kingdom last month reported that U.S., Canadian and British seniors have ceased seeing longevity improvements, suggesting the impact of austerity since the 2008 economic collapse is a primary culprit. The Actuaries report said:

“The rising mortality rates among US working age demonstrates that the historical fall in mortality rates cannot be taken for granted. The pace of life expectancy gains of older ages has slowed down, with some age groups showing signs of increasing death rates. These signs should be taken as warnings that worsened health care, behaviour and environment can reverse decades of success in health and longevity. Actuaries need to have a better understanding of the drivers of longevity to consider how to incorporate recent experience into forecasts of future longevity.”

As welcome as a new quantification of the toll of austerity is, such a notion is far from new, nor is it simply the latest variant of capitalism, neoliberalism, that is at work here. The increased deprivation of capitalism caused a half-million U.S. deaths from 1999 to 2015. Specifically, nearly half a million excess deaths have occurred since 1999 among middle-aged White non-Hispanic United Statesians, according to a paper published in 2015 by two Princeton University researchers, Anne Case and Angus Deaton.

A shuttered hospital (photo by Jim Henderson)

From 1978 to 1998, the mortality rate for U.S. Whites aged 45 to 54 fell by 2 percent per year on average, matching the average rate of decline in five comparison countries (Australia, Britain, Canada, France and Germany). But although, from 1999, other industrial countries continued to see a decline in mortality rates for the middle-aged, the U.S. White non-Hispanic mortality rose by half a percent a year, an increase that is unique, Drs. Case and Deaton reported. African-American death rates have not similarly risen although remain considerably higher than those for Whites.

The authors do not speculate on the reason for White deaths to increase in contrast to the trend of minority groups, but we might reasonably conclude that People of Color have had deprivation and economic difficulty imposed on them in greater numbers and more intensely, and thus are experiencing less of a change in historic circumstances than are Whites. The economic downturn that the world has lived through since 2008 certainly hasn’t bypassed People of Color — far from it — but the decline has not spared Whites, a group not as hardened to lower living standards thanks to their privileges.

Privatization costs human lives

Privatization and intensified reliance on “the market” has already been demonstrated to worsen health outcomes. A 2009 study published by The Lancet concluded that the mass privatization in the former Soviet bloc resulted in one million deaths. Mass privatization caused the average number of deaths to increase by 13 percent from the 1992 onset of shock therapy. An Oxford University press release summarized these findings:

“David Stuckler, from Oxford’s Department of Sociology, said: ‘Our study helps explain the striking differences in mortality in the post-communist world. Countries which pursued rapid privatisation, or ‘shock therapy’, had much greater rises in deaths than countries which followed a more gradual path. Not only did rapid privatisation lead to mass unemployment but also wiped out the social safety nets, which were critical for helping people survive during this turbulent period.’ ”

During Soviet times, we were assured by Western commentators that high levels of alcoholism were a sign of despair in Russia, yet alcohol per-capita consumption rates in 2007 were three times that of 1990.

When a health care system is designed to deliver corporate profits rather than health care — and this is precisely what privatized health systems do — such are the results. Throwing more than 20 million people off the roles of health insurance, as all Republican Party plans would have done, could only have exacerbated poor health outcomes. But doing so is consistent with Republican plans to shred what remains of the U.S. social safety net, sure to lead to further early deaths. As the more reliable instruments of the will of corporate plutocrats (Democrats having to sometimes make concessions to their voting base), Republicans see Donald Trump in the White House as a gift.

The purported disapproval enunciated by the likes of Senator Jeff Flake are a sad joke — the Arizona Republican has reliably voted for all Trump appointees and legislation. What really “embarrasses” members of Congress are the president’s vulgarity and ham-fisted obviousness. He simply refuses to use code words that way that ordinary Republicans have learned to do. Stop being so obvious! But in reality President Trump is the logical product of 37 years of Republican pandering — half a century if we go back to Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy.”

We can certainly argue over what constitutes fascism, and whether President Trump is properly called a fascist or that he is simply a Republican who is more willing to show the fist behind capitalist rule albeit someone who carries the seeds for a potential fascist movement. The latter is more than scary enough. But as the casual talk of a “silver lining” for shortened life spans illustrates, human life is expendable in the pursuit of profits under capitalism. And as long as the Trump administration is useful to this pursuit, occasional protests from corporate executives will remain no more than hollow gestures.

10 comments on “Life under capitalism: Early deaths a ‘silver lining’ for corporations

  1. blossomfire says:

    this article (along with all other “systemic disorder” articles) reflects excellent research, analysis and delivery. it was illuminating, though painful, to see in stark relief yet another horror of capitalism’s life-crushing and life shortening profit motive

    directly related to this, i suggest people view the film “what the health” (by the same filmmakers as those who created COWspiracy – both on Netflix, thanks to Leonardo DiCaprio). most of us are aware that the pharma-pseudo-kill and medi-kill corporations are controlled by the same profit motives as other corporations. many of us are NOT aware, however, that the so called health organizations (i.e. the american heart association, the american cancer society, the american diabetics association, etc) are also controlled by the same profit-bound entities.

    aware that a plant based, vegan diet and lifestyle can prevent and reverse most if not all major and minor diseases, they nonetheless continue to promote animal products. the naked question poses itself – are they acting on behalf of animal agriculture because of huge donations they receive from these self-same animal industries?

    it seems that if we want to live long, healthy, fulfilling lives, (as social activists, etc), we need to take our health and longevity into our own hands (consuming from the abundance of the plant universe – organic, whole foods, fruits, veggies, etc). only by doing so will we have the energy, stamina, vitality and mental clarity to work to take the reigns of society into our own hands, both are essential and interrelated by a million plant-food fibers.

  2. Nancy Kogel says:

    as usual – excellent! i hope you like the comment i left.


  3. Alcuin says:

    Two points:

    1. Research the phrase “janitor insurance.”

    2. From Eric Hoffer’s book, The True Believer, first published in 1951, on the characteristics of a mass-movement leader:

    “”Exceptional intelligence, noble character and originality seem neither indispensable nor perhaps desirable. The main requirements seem to be: audacity and a joy in defiance; an iron will; conviction that he is in possession of the one and only truth; faith in his destiny and luck; a capacity for passionate hatred; contempt for the present; a cunning estimate of human nature; a delight in symbols (spectacles and ceremonials); unbounded brazenness which finds expression in a disregard for consistency and fairness; a recognition that the innermost craving of a following is for communion and that there can never be too much of it; a capacity for winning and holding the utmost loyalty of a group of able lieutenants. This last faculty is one of the most essential and elusive. The uncanny powers of a leader manifest themselves not so much in the hold he has on the masses as in his ability to dominate and almost bewitch a small group of able men. These men must be fearless, proud, intelligent and capable of organizing and running large-scale undertakings, and yet they must submit wholly to the will of the leader, draw their inspiration and driving force from him, and glory in this submission.”

    pp. 114-115.

    Capitalism has hollowed out this country and left behind a substantial number of fearful people. They are fearful of the future, fearful for the future of their children, and fearful for themselves. Rather than look for solutions in rational inquiry (fear and reason cannot coexist), they lash out at the Other. Centuries ago, with the Enlightenment, the West sold its soul to the Devil. We spent a long time enjoying the fiddle music but now the Devil has come to collect his debt and we don’t understand why the temperature is suddenly rising.

  4. 1. I hadn’t heard of the term “janitors insurance,” but upon looking it up I found it is the same as “dead peasants insurance,” a term that has been around for a while. Wal-Mart, among others, is notorious for using that. For readers not familiar with this, what these terms refer to is the practice of corporations taking out life insurance in the name of employees and cashing in should they die. Lovely.

    2. Although what Hoffer describes does not apply to all mass-movement leaders, it does to many, in particular those of right-wing “populist” and fascist movements. Yes, there have been left-wing leaders to whom this description would fit.

    This, incidentally, touches upon a theory I have long nurtured as to why talk radio skews so heavily to the far Right. Namely, that listening to talk radio means listening to an “authority” tell you what you should think. This appeals to many on the Right, who often are intellectually capable of doing little more than echoing talking points. Folks on the Left are far more prone to arguing and debating, and thus have no need for an “authority” to spoon-feed them. I am generalizing here, I know that, and obviously there are exceptions both ways. But the need for communion that Hoffer describes can be partially fulfilled though the shared experience of a broadcaster.

    Hoffer’s vivid description reminds us of why collective leadership is needed (as opposed to the leadership of a single person) and that a collective leadership must continually cultivate newer members to assume leadership roles with regular turnover in leaderships and accountability. We will have to liberate ourselves, not wait for somebody to do it for us.

    When there is no organized Left to provide answers and organization during periods of economic turmoil, the resulting vacuum will be filled by the Right. Thus the rise of a Trump who would have gone nowhere as a joke candidate in better times, or the vote for Brexit, or the rise of neo-fascism in Hungary, or the rise of religious fundamentalism paired with neoliberalism and scapegoating in Poland and Turkey.

    Once again, Alcuin, you have given us much reflect upon seriously.

    • Alcuin says:

      Yoda: “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.

      Marx: “All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind. ”

      I contend that capitalism, which dissolves all that is solid, leads straight to fear.

      The rise of right wing populism is totally predictable if one has a proper understanding of capitalism.

      Unfortunately for all of us, the right wing populist solution to the problem is more capitalism.

  5. daniel benzali says:

    You just blame the Republicans. The Democrats are just as bad !!!! The 2008 meltdown came under Obama’s watch,
    and he bailed out the Banksters while leaving the working class to suffer and die. Your focus on one of the 2 wings
    of the capitalist monster bird is myopic, to say the least.
    If you’re still on board with the damn Democrats,
    you are delusional.

    • Daniel, you certainly aren’t paying attention. Perhaps you could actually read some of the material on this blog before commenting.

    • Alcuin says:

      Yoda: “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

      Anger, Daniel, only leads to your suffering. What fear leads you to your condemnation of the Republicans and Democrats? Do you really think that they are listening to your diatribe against them? Confront your fear and then come up with a positive solution. Angry diatribes against Republicans and Democrats are the easy way out and far too common on both the Left and the Right.

      May you find the light within.

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