Each year for nearly 50 years, thousands of people living in countries with universal health care and extraordinarily low unemployment would risk their lives and climb walls in the middle of the night or get into junky boats on dangerous seas to escape their predicament.
But New York Times columnist Paul Krugman is still surprised that state-subsidized health care insurance hasn’t made people happier:
A couple of weeks ago President Obama mocked Republicans who are “down on America,” and reinforced his message by doing a pretty good Grumpy Cat impression. He had a point: With job growth at rates not seen since the 1990s, with the percentage of Americans covered by health insurance hitting record highs, the doom-and-gloom predictions of his political enemies look ever more at odds with reality.
Yet, there is darkness spreading over part of our society. And we don’t know why.
Krugman is working off the findings of a distressing new study by Anne Case and Angus Deaton, a Princeton economist and Nobel Prize winner in economics, that found mortality rates of middle-aged white Americans has dramatically increased since 1999. Deaton, who maintains that many Americans have lost the “narrative of their lives,” found that the spike in mortality is predominately driven by suicides and drug addiction.
While claiming to have no answers as to why it’s happening, Krugman nevertheless finds it plausible that recent economic setbacks (which he always pins on Republicans) are at fault. He then suggests that the despair found in the Deaton-Case study helps explain the modern GOP.
In particular, I know I’m not the only observer who sees a link between the despair reflected in those mortality numbers and the volatility of right-wing politics.
So are Americans increasingly addicted to heroin because conservatives want Washington to return to 2008 spending levels, or do conservatives want to return to 2008 spending levels because they’re doing heroin? It is unclear. Was it the Republican Party that passed massive new spending bills as a reflection of despair, or is it the recalcitrant minority that refused to pass massive new spending bills that reflects this misery? Was the Republican Party more volatile when it nominated Mitt Romney or John McCain? Or is it volatile because a Perot-like populist happens to lead in the polls for a few months? Also, unclear.
Strawman, False Cause, or Slippery Slope? You Decide
But none of this is really matters. The entire point of his piece is to use the Chase-Deaton study to suggest conservative politicians are irrational and nihilistic because they represent constituencies of despair. People have lost hope, so they vote for hateful capital-gains cutting politicians (“deporting immigrants and wearing baseball caps”). The American Dream — which, if you’ve read Krugman, you know is a fantastical array of idealized leftist goals — is lost.
Naturally, Krugman dismisses out of hand social conservative concerns regarding families and the corrosion of civil society. Now I’m no social scientist, but it seems irrational to simply dismiss all evidence that family is vital to happiness and that children of divorced parents are more prone to suffer from depression and chemical dependency. Surely, it is just as plausible that how we live our lives has as big an impact on our personal happiness as minimum wage policy.
The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, a comprehensive measure of well-being in America, is all over the place when it comes to politics. It finds red states among the bottom 10 (states that are generally poor) and plenty of red states in top 10, with the exception of vacation destinations, Hawaii and Colorado.
Yet, it is obvious that Americans are no happier when they have more government. It is absurd to assert, as Krugman does when grappling to understand why American don’t appreciate liberal policies, that people carping about those policies are “down on America.” Americans are down on Washington, down on Obamacare, and definitely down on meddling technocrats who can’t get anything right. You can hate all those things with the fiery heat of thousand suns and still be content with the rest of your life.
It’s also worth pointing out that Krugman’s claim of the administration’s progress is an incomplete truth, at best.
The unemployment rate is lower, indeed, but the labor force participation rate remains at its lowest point in 38 years with only 62 percent of the civilian, non-institutional population working or looking for work. So there are a lot of people who probably aren’t feeling as useful as they would like. And Obamacare is an expansion of the welfare state that, even if we concede it succeeded in offering people insurance coverage, does little to help most Americans. Despite all the talk of growing the economy from the middle out, Democrats have focused on subsidizing programs that they believe will help the poor. Maybe for the middle class, Krugman is the one at “odds with reality.”
I am certainly not arguing that Obamacare has anything to do with rising mortality rates, but what evidence do we have that despair has manifested in Republican politics? Or because income has stalled? Or because of “inequality?” Krugman offers none, yet all these well-worn liberal hobbyhorses make an appearance. Obama has given you all these good things, yet darkness still prevails. Krugman writes that “aid to education” and a bumping of minimum wage will do “lots” of good for many people, but still it “may not be enough to cure existential despair.”
May not? Ya’ think?