Poverty Kills Us All

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Poverty kills us all!

Poverty kills us all. As a result of the huge gap between the rich and poor in this country, we all die sooner than we need to die. It kills us more than terrorists; and it kills us more than heart disease; and it kills us all earlier regardless of how wealthy we are. A number of months ago I listened to a talk by Stephen Bezruchka MD. It completely blew me away and yet at the end of it I was unable to remember Mr. Bezruchka's and as a result it has taken me all this time to find him online. You can read the speech here & here. I'll let him set the tone for the talk:

I begin by asking you how the United States of America compares to other countries in measures of our health. To measure health let's consider average number of years lived by people in a country and use United Nations data. First note that we spend half of the world's health care budget, that is of all the money spent world-wide on medical services and public health, we spend half of that in this country. If we rank all the countries in the world using average number of years lived, where does the US stand? Are we the healthiest country in the world? If you think so, raise you hands? are we in the top 5 do we stand 6 to 10 11 to 15 16 to 20 21 to 25 below 25? The answer is that we are tied for 26th! Behind all the other rich countries.

People often talk about the relative poverty in this country as a way to justify it. The Heritage Foundation offers tons of facts on how many TVs the poverty stricken American has and other supposed "luxury" items that people living in poverty in this country have. If you listen enough to the people at the Heritage Foundation you begin to start to envy poor people. For instance:

Ninety-seven percent of poor households have a color television; over half own two or more color televisions.

They've got it made! What else could they want? Food? The Heritage Foundation study does mention a little problem with poor people getting food:

While the poor are generally well-nourished, some poor families do experience hunger, meaning a temporary discomfort due to food shortages.

Grocery stores filled to the brim with food, resturaunts around the country throwing food out on a regular basis, and there are Americans who go hungry. That's shameful. The Heritage Foundation makes all the arguments the average angry American wants to hear. The poor have it made.

This is where Dr. Bezruchka steps in like a ray of light on a dreary day. He argues that the immense gap between the rich and the poor causes our relatively poor health as a nation. We were healthier when we were more egalitarian, circa 1950. Japan is much healthier and much more egalitarian.

To Summarize at this point. Poverty is bad for your health. Relative poverty, living in a large gap society is the worst part of poverty. Poverty is not a certain amount of goods, but a form of invidious comparison between those who have more and those who have less. If the gap between the rich and the poor is smaller then the comparisons we make are milder. When the playing field is move level, it is easier to play. This is what justice is all about, avoiding having one part of Society bearing all the burden but reaping none of the benefits.

What could possibly be so bad about a bigger gap society?

How is it that a bigger gap society has worse health than a more egalitarian society. Consider two extremes: an egalitarian society where everyone is more or less equal, and a very hierarchical one where there are a few fabulously wealthy rich and the rest of us, sort of like the USA. What is life like in an egalitarian society? What are the prevailing relationships and feelings. Wouldn't they be those of friendship, support, trust, caring, helping, sharing, and community? Don't those words sound healthy? What about the other extreme, a very hierarchical society? What is it like inside such a population? Well, those on top with the wealth have power and can dominate, compel and coerce those beneath them to get things done. The rest of us resign ourselves to our job and role, but feel humiliated and shamed. Shame is the important emotion at work. None of these feelings such as shame or relationships of power and domination sound healthy, do they? But in countries such as the USA, these are the prevailing mechanisms at work, even though we think we are all middle class there is an ever increasing gap between the rich and poor here. In a society with a bigger gap, those above put down those below, and this is related to the amount of violence in society and helps explain why we have so much homicide. Costa Rica is an example of a nearby country that is pretty egalitarian, and even though it is much poorer than the US, it is healthier than we are. Canada is another example, our neighbor to the north, which is much much healthier than the USA. The final example is Cuba, a country that we have been strangling for 44 years with trade sanctions and embargoes. Cuba is as healthy as we are, despite, or maybe because of our policies.

The good news is we have the power to change all of this. We, the working people of this country, are the ones with the real power. Working people a century ago faced a much more hostile and brutal enemy and won remarkable concessions: the eight-hour work day, unemployment insurance, disability and death benefits, pensions, health care, overtime benefits, and paid holidays and vacations. That didn't just happen by magic or the benevolence of our rich benefactors. It took hard work, organizing workers, and a lot of sacrifice. Up until the 1930s hundreds of workers were being killed each year by anti-union thugs hired by capitalists.

It's time to renew that struggle and fight for a more equitable slice of the pie. Take action! Click here.

Published in: on April 19, 2006 at 10:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

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