Money doesn’t kill people, Austerity kills people

In most any civilized space-time that headline would be unassailable. Remove or reduce food, shelter, and medical care, and more people die. Some get so depressed by facing all of that, they choose the only way out they see. But we live in interesting times, where facts don’t count for a huge chunk of the purportedly most prosperous and best educated nation on earth. Expect the usual hand waving and cold-blooded denial from them.

For the rest of us, data linking depression and suicide with the sudden onset of homelessness, medical bankruptcy, or hopeless grinding poverty comes as no surprise at all. Austerity kills, it really is that simple and everyone knows it. In Greece, where Austerians have rammed through ledge penalizing the least affluent and most vulnerable for the greedy sins of the super rich, the healthcare system is collapsing along with what’s left of the economy. But in other places equally hard hit or worse, where the Austerians have been held at bay, the data shows exactly what you’d expect:

NYT — In contrast, Iceland avoided a public health disaster even though it experienced, in 2008, the largest banking crisis in history, relative to the size of its economy. After three main commercial banks failed, total debt soared, unemployment increased ninefold, and the value of its currency, the krona, collapsed. Iceland became the first European country to seek an I.M.F. bailout since 1976. But instead of bailing out the banks and slashing budgets, as the I.M.F. demanded, Iceland’s politicians took a radical step: they put austerity to a vote. In two referendums, in 2010 and 2011, Icelanders voted overwhelmingly to pay off foreign creditors gradually, rather than all at once through austerity. Iceland’s economy has largely recovered, while Greece’s teeters on collapse. No one lost health care coverage or access to medication, even as the price of imported drugs rose. There was no significant increase in suicide. Last year, the first U.N. World Happiness Report ranked Iceland as one of the world’s happiest nations.

Skeptics will point to structural differences between Greece and Iceland. Greece’s membership in the euro zone made currency devaluation impossible, and it had less political room to reject I.M.F. calls for austerity. But the contrast supports our thesis that an economic crisis does not necessarily have to involve a public health crisis. … Somewhere between these extremes is the United States.

Depression and thoughts of suicide can be a complicated deal. I worked with some therapists years ago on behalf of a friend, by the luck of the draw they weren’t crackpots intent on recovering repressed memories of alien or Satanic Ritual Abuse. It took a few years, but they eventually put my friend back together again with the facility of a veteran orthopedic surgeon reconstructing a shattered joint.

I learned there are all kinds of depression, the kind where someone is real sad for extended periods of time, the kind where the patient shuts down like Hyperbole and a Half wrote and drew about last week. Most are complicated, involving traumatic emotional and/or physical injuries, some are the result of chemical imbalances or even birth defects, some are idiopathic — med speak for no idea why. In most cases even those can be unraveled, the patient’s condition improved, over time. 

But of all those manifestations, the kind forced on so many victims in Greece and elsewhere caused by no options, no way out, of an intolerable situation — the increase in depression and suicide among the least powerful and most vulnerable is the easiest to fix. You fix it by not voting for people who want to enact Austerity. And sorry conservatives, but in the US that means your candidate way more often than it means a progressive one.


  1. says

    “Some get so depressed by facing all of that, they choose the only way out they see.”

    History shows that this is pretty rare: the will to survive is very strong in most people. The vast majority of people get desperate, not depressed, and desperate people have a very high likelihood of rising up to fix matters on their own. It is in the enlightened self-interest of the ruling class to keep the populace reasonably happy, fed and entertained, even if it is only bread and circuses.

    Alas, this is a lesson that must be retaught every couple of generations.

  2. ~G~ says

    @1 Do you have links to specific evidence for your statements for those who’d like to verify and learn more?

  3. Worldtraveller says

    And here in Seattle, the bus service is going to be slashed (hopefully, enough people will speak out to stop it from happening). Who does that affect the most? Oh, right…..

  4. loreo says

    “The vast majority of people get desperate, not depressed…”

    Citation needed, man. I’m seeing signs of depression EVERYWHERE among people in my broke-ass California town. It’s getting to seem that mental health is reserved for the rich; the rest of us are frantic, anxious, and depressed. I haven’t had an asymptomatic day in months and months. I know it’s because I work two jobs and barely cover my bills, but knowing where your mental health concerns originate isn’t always enough to calm down when I get cut off on the road and my worn-out brakes barely work and I’m certain for a moment that I’ll die because I’ve been too poor to properly maintain the car I need for work.

  5. Holms says

    In Greece, where Austerians have rammed through ledge penalizing the least affluent and most vulnerable for the greedy sins of the super rich…

    Is that shorthand for legislation perhaps?


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