Posts Tagged ‘suicide’


The headlines this morning are all reporting the same thing: suicides in the United States are climbing dramatically. The suicide rate rose 24 percent between 1999 and 2014 after a decade and a half of declines. Moreover, the increase accelerated to an average of 2 percent a year after 2006 from about 1 percent a year from 1999 through 2006. And, finally, the suicide rate also continued to climb in the first half of the 2015.

What the hell is going on?

According to Alex Crosby, chief of the surveillance branch of the CDC’s Division of Violence Prevention,

Suicide rates have risen historically during difficult economic times, when job prospects diminish. The CDC tied increases in suicides to foreclosures on homes and evictions several years ago, he said.


In fact, according to a 2011 study in which Crosby participated,

the overall suicide rate generally increased in recessions, especially in severe recessions that lasted longer than 1 year. The largest increase in the overall suicide rate occurred during the Great Depression (1929–1933), when it surged from 18.0 in 1928 to 22.1 (the all-time high) in 1932, the last full year of the Great Depression. This increase of 22.8% was the highest recorded for any 4-year interval during the study period. The overall suicide rate also rose during 3 other severe recessions: the end of the New Deal (1937–1938), the oil crisis (1973–1975), and the double-dip recession (1980–1982). Not only did the overall suicide rate generally rise during recessions; it also mostly fell during expansions. For example, the overall suicide rate posted the sharpest decrease during World War II (1939–1945) and the longest decrease during the longest expansion period (1991–2001); during both of these periods, the economy experienced fast growth and low unemployment.

There’s a clear correlation between capitalist downturns and U.S. suicide rates—both historically and in recent years.

Sure, people kill themselves with guns—and with drug overdoses and alcohol poisoning and by suffocating themselves. But we’re forced to have the freedom to kill ourselves by the suicidal instability of the way our economic and social life is currently organized.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch [ht: sm],

JEFFERSON CITY • Spence Jackson, spokesman for the late state Auditor Tom Schweich, apparently believed he would face unemployment in the wake of his boss’ suicide last month. And that, according to a note Jackson left, was the reason he took his own life Friday.

Jackson left a suicide note saying he couldn’t take “being unemployed again,” before shooting and killing himself Friday, Jefferson City police said Tuesday.

capitalism kills by Metro Centri

Another study, published by the British Journal of Psychiatry [paywall], has confirmed that “there has been a substantial rise in ‘economic suicides’ in the Great Recessions afflicting Europe and North America.”*

What the authors found is that, suicide rates either increased (for most countries in Europe, where suicide rates had been falling, and Canada, where rates had been stable) or accelerated (for the United States and Poland, where suicide rates had already been rising) after the onset of the latest economic crisis. Their conclusion is that “there have been at least 10 000 more economic suicides than would have been expected in the European Union, Canada and the USA since the Great Recession began in 2007.”

Since “economic suicides” are preventable, the authors offer three options that “may increase mental health resilience during economic shocks”: access to secondary prevention, active labor market programs, and greater gender equality in the workplace. Their view is that “Recessions will continue to hurt, but need not cause self-harm.”

In my view, we can go one step further, by recognizing that the economic conditions that lead to “economic suicides” are themselves preventable. So, in addition to what the authors suggest, we need to consider creating alternative economic institutions—ways of organizing the economic system that make sure people are not forced to pay (because of unemployment, indebtedness, and so on) the ultimate price of severe downturns in economic activity and that undo the causes (including the way corporations are organized and macroeconomic policy formulated) of recessions and depressions in the first place.


*I discuss an earlier study, published by Lancet, here.


Austerity has killed thousands of people. And it is killing the hopes of millions more—in Greece, Britain, the United States, and elsewhere.

Detailing a decade of research, Oxford University political economist David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu, an assistant professor of medicine and an epidemiologist at Stanford University, said their findings show austerity is seriously bad for health.

In a book to be published this week, the researchers say more than 10,000 suicides and up to a million cases of depression have been diagnosed during what they call the “Great Recession” and its accompanying austerity across Europe and North America.

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now reporting that, in 2009, the number of deaths from suicide surpassed the number of deaths from motor vehicle crashes.

Suicide rates among both men and women aged 35–64 years increased substantially from 1999 and 2010. This finding is consistent with a previous study that showed a notable increase in the overall suicide rate among middle-aged adults relative to a small increase in suicide rates among younger persons and a small decline in older persons during a similar period. The increases were geographically widespread and occurred in states with high, as well as average and low suicide rates.

The CDC notes that possible contributing factors for the rise in suicide rates among middle-aged adults “include the recent economic downturn.”

Try as they might to give the impression of being Very Serious People, those who continue to support the imposition of austerity measures in Europe and North America have blood on their hands.


Every time a student asserts that the United States is on the path to Greece, I have to pause, collect my wits, and explain once again why they’re wrong.

They’re wrong about the United States. And they’re wrong about Greece.

I have to remind myself, it’s not their fault: they’ve been bamboozled by the Chicken Little austerians (like Joe Scarborough and Jeffrey Sachs) into believing that the growing fiscal debt is sending the United States inexorably toward a tipping point, just like Greece.

But it’s simply not true. First, I explain for the umpteenth time, the United States borrows in a currency it controls. So, it can always print money to repay the debt. And right now, the world is actually paying the United States to lend us its money. So, no, there is no Greek tragedy looming in the United States.

And that’s exactly what Matthew O’Brien concludes:

Not all debt is created equal. Countries that borrow in a currency they control play under a different set of rules. They can never run out of money to pay back what they owe, since they can always print what they need as a last resort. That’s not to say they actually do or should turn to the printing-press to finance themselves. But the option to do so calms markets. After all, inflation is a lot less bad than default for creditors. That’s why it’s no so easy for countries that don’t borrow in a currency they control. They can default. And this is a case where thinking can make things so. Indeed, as Paul De Grauwe points out, countries that don’t have their own central bank, like euro members, can fall victim to self-fulfilling panics that push them into bankruptcy. In other words, markets force up interest rates because they fear default — which then pushes them into default. It’s a bank-run on a country.

And then I proceed to explain, also for the umpteenth time, that the crisis in Greece is not about government debt. It’s about debt owed to foreigners, who in turn have imposed austerity policies that are making things even worse.

Which is exactly what Joe Stiglitz is arguing:

What will not work, at least for most eurozone countries, is internal devaluation – that is, forcing down wages and prices – as this would increase the debt burden for households, firms, and governments (which overwhelmingly hold euro-denominated debts).

And, with adjustments in different sectors occurring at different speeds, deflation would fuel massive distortions in the economy.

If internal devaluation were the solution, the gold standard would not have been a problem in the Great Depression. Internal devaluation, combined with austerity and the single-market principle (which facilitates capital flight and the haemorrhaging of banking systems), is a toxic combination.

The European project was, and is, a great political idea. It has the potential to promote prosperity and peace. But, rather than enhancing solidarity within Europe, it is sowing seeds of discord within and between countries.

The real Greek tragedy is that austerity advocates have imposed all the costs of adjustment on ordinary Greek people, who continue to suffer from falling incomes and growing unemployment, which ultimately for the most desperate leads to suicide.

And when someone actually runs the numbers on debt and borrowing costs? Well, let’s give O’Brien the last word:

Beware economists bearing regressions — and journalists too. My sample sizes here are so ridiculously small that the results are hardly dispositive. So don’t pay attention to the evidence. Pay attention to the lack of evidence.

There isn’t any evidence that the U.S., or other countries that borrow in currencies they control, face some debt tipping point after which borrowing costs spiral out of control. There isn’t even much evidence this is true of Europe’s troubled economies. . .

Our Greek chorus are more Chicken Littles than Cassandras.

We know that capitalism kills. We’re now learning that it induces people to kill themselves.

According to a new study published on The Lancet [pdf], the rate of suicide in the United States rose sharply during the years after the start of the most recent recession.

In the years before the onset of the crisis (from 1999 to 2007), the suicide mortality rate in the USA was rising on average at a rate of 0·12 per 100000 per year (95% CI 0·09–0·14; figure). Coinciding with the onset of the recession, the suicide rate accelerated. There were an additional 0·51 deaths per 100000 per year (95% CI 0·28–0·75) in 2008–10. This acceleration corresponds to an additional 1580 suicides per year (95% CI 860–2300). Thus, during the recessionary period after 2007, there were an estimated 4750 excess suicide deaths (95% CI 2570–6920).

The suicide rate associated with unemployment is even higher in the United States than in Europe.

Since the rate of unemployment between 2007 and 2010 in the USA increased from 5·8% to 9·6%, our model indicates that the rise in US unemployment during the recession is associated with a 3·8% increase in the suicide rate, corresponding to about 1330 suicides. In other words, rising unemployment could account for about a quarter of the excess suicides noted in the USA during this time.

Clearly, capitalism in crisis is a story of increased suicides.

Who’s cashing in, and what are they cashing in on? And who’s cashing out?

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is cashing in, via MITx—its new, interactive e-learning venture—by providing the courses online for free but charging “a ‘modest’ fee for certificates that indicate a learner has mastered the content.”

The alternative, of course, would be to support the public university system, and allow all students to get a real college education in residence.

Ian Ayres and Aaron S. Edlin believe we should cash in on the growth of income and wealth by the top 1 percent, by using the Brandeis Ratio—the ratio of the average income of the nation’s richest 1 percent to the median household income—as a trigger to create a new top-income tax bracket.

Or we could use Brandeis’s warning—that “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both”—to find a way of creating democracy in both political and economic institutions.

Blake Gopnik sees the super-rich using their piles of cash to buy up contemporary art, thereby creating a modern-day equivalent of the potlatch of the Pacific Northwest (“where the goal was to ostentatiously give away, even destroy, as much of your wealth as possible—to show that you could”), which blurs the boundary between aesthetic and economic value.

Which doesn’t stop Gopnik from offering his suggestions of “five highly touted artists whose works are lousy investments.”

Multi-millionaires in Hong Kong and elsewhere are cashing in on their growing wealth to purchase not only Asian art but also “wine, gems, watches, postage stamps and other memorabilia–the rarer and more exclusive, the better.”

As Jack Amariglio suggested, we shouldn’t “be shocked if new theories and conceptions of what is beautiful and worth owning and displaying, once again, is radically revised such that what is now considered primarily ‘mundane’ and prosaic among the vast amount of Chinese artistic productions of the past becomes the newly discovered ‘treasures’ and ‘wonders’. . .of the global aesthetic consciousness.

The Freakonomics team of Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner have certainly been cashing in, with their growing franchise consisting of a bestselling sequel, SuperFreakonomics, an occasional column in the New York Times Magazine, a popular blog, and a documentary film.

However, as Andrew Gelman and Kaiser Fung explain, Levitt and Dubner have made a number of avoidable mistakes, “from back-of-the-envelope analyses gone wrong to unexamined assumptions to an uncritical reliance on the work of Levitt’s friends and colleagues.”

And then, as Barbara Ehrenreich and John Ehrenreich explain, it’s not the “liberal elite” but the top 1 percent of the wealth distribution—the “bankers, hedge-fund managers, and CEOs targeted by the Occupy Wall Street movement—that has been cashing in, thereby creating the 99 percent.

As it happened, the idea of the “liberal elite” could not survive the depredations of the 1% in the late 2000s. For one thing, it was summarily eclipsed by the discovery of the actual Wall Street-based elite and their crimes. Compared to them, professionals and managers, no matter how annoying, were pikers. The doctor or school principal might be overbearing, the professor and the social worker might be condescending, but only the 1% took your house away.

Finally, there are all the Greek people who, in the midst of the current crises, appear to be cashing out—leading to the highest rate of suicide in Europe.

Painful austerity measures and a seemingly endless economic drama is exacting a deadly toll on the nation. Statistics released by the Greek ministry of health show a 40% rise in those taking their own lives between January and May this year compared to the same period in 2010.

Before the financial crisis first began to bite three years ago, Greece had the lowest suicide rate in Europe at 2.8 per 100,000 inhabitants. It now has almost double that number, the highest on the continent, despite the stigma in a nation where the Orthodox church refuses funeral rights for those who take their lives. Attempted suicides have also increased.

“It’s never just one thing, but almost always debts, joblessness, the fear of being fired are cited when people phone in to say they are contemplating ending their lives,” said Eleni Beikari, a psychiatrist at the non-governmental organisation, Klimaka, which runs a 24-hour suicide hotline.