By Greg Godels
January 7, 2023
In the spirit of Jonathan Swift’s satirical world (A Modest Proposal), we might facetiously attribute the recent decline in US life expectancy to a concerted effort to strengthen the social safety net.
Politicians have been maintaining for decades that it would be necessary to reduce Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits to keep the systems solvent. Leaders of both political parties have urged cutting benefits, changing eligibility requirements, or raising the already-high age thresholds to preserve the reserves for future recipients. Alarmists have persisted for decades, and seniors and the poor have passionately and successfully resisted cuts and changes.
But now comes a new way of stretching the available funds for the poor and elderly: Enable and encourage them to die earlier!
From 2019 to 2021, a calloused response to a pandemic emergency, shamefully inadequate mental health support, a poor profit-driven healthcare system, unprecedented inequality, and a ruthlessly self-centered, individualistic civil society knocked off nearly two-and-a-half years from the expected lifespan from birth. In the US, a person born in 2019 would be expected to live to be 78.8, while the same person born in 2021 would be expected to die at 76.4, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). What a clever way to lessen the burden on the social safety net! No doubt, hundreds of billions of dollars will be saved! And undoubtedly, our representatives will give the savings to the military.
My guess is that many free-marketeers and debt-hawks wish that they had come up with this solution even earlier. It is far less politically volatile than raising the eligibility thresholds.
Of course, shortening life expectancy by two-and-a-half years cheats millions of the money that they have invested in social insurance. The hundreds of billions “saved” corresponds to the hundreds of billions invested in a secure future. Responsible government has stolen those benefits from those denied the same life chances that other advanced economies ensured their people over the same period.
Certainly, money is nothing compared to the prospect of premature death. The CDC estimates that the 5% drop in life expectancy between 2020 and 2021 alone accounts for 1.2 million “excess” deaths, the largest percentage drop in life expectancy since World War II.
While the CDC has not yet offered a further analysis of life expectancy by race and ethnicity, The Wall Street Journal reveals a recent study that shows Native Americans suffering the largest drop (1.9 years) in 2021. The eight million or so US citizens who identify as Native American have lost 6.6 years of their expected lives since 2019, now living 65.2 years from birth.
Thanks to US age eligibility, that means that Native Americans will pay into Medicare while never receiving any significant return in benefits! Further, they will only receive, at best, a token return in Social Security benefits for a lifetime of contributions!
Similarly, an African-American worker should expect to receive approximately six years’ less of benefits than his or her white counterpart, given the disparity in life expectancy.
Thus, many white retirees are “free riding” on the benefits earned by early deceased minorities, a stark rebuke to the racist depiction of minorities as welfare grifters.
In a society where losing one million, one hundred thousand victims to a viral infection is taken in stride, it may be more impactful to express human losses in dollars and cents.
In a society that places the health of its people in the hands of private profiteers and distributes life-giving drugs based on the ability to pay, it should be no surprise that life expectancy is declining.
In a society where citizens are expected to bear accidents, misfortune, and poor life choices alone and with no social scaffolding, death is a predictable outcome.
In a society where life-prospects are locked into an ordering based upon income and wealth, it should be no surprise that the poor and less fortunate are most likely to die prematurely.
If the US is the bellwether of capitalism and its trajectory, then the world must come to live without capitalism.