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Sunday, August 12, 2007


Capitalism kills

The AP reports today that the U.S. has slipped even further in life expectancy, to 42nd place (down from 11th 20 years ago). But, we're told, "it's not as simple as saying we don't have national health insurance," and to justify that claim, AP proceeds to cite such factors as obesity and "the luxury of choosing a bad lifestyle as opposed to having one imposed on us by hard times." That's somewhat fair, but of the several causes of obesity, one is poverty, as poor people eat a lot more cheap starches and a lot less expensive fish and lean meat. But the last two "excuses" for the shorter U.S. life expectancy really stretch things: there are "racial disparities" ("Black Americans have an average life expectancy of 73.3 years, five years shorter than white Americans"), and "a relatively high percentage of babies born in the U.S. die before their first birthday, compared with other industrialized nations."

Both are true, of course. And both are a direct result of the lack of, not "national health insurance," but national health care. The distinction between those two is particularly notable with respect to the infant mortality rate, of which, the article informs us, "Forty countries, including Cuba, Taiwan and most of Europe had lower infant mortality rates than the U.S. in 2004." And health insurance, which often doesn't cover pre-natal care, and when it does, the deductibles and co-pays often discourage poor people from taking advantage of it anyway, isn't the answer.

The final statistic quoted by AP is particular telling in this regard: "The U.S. rate was 6.8 deaths for every 1,000 live births. It was 13.7 for Black Americans, the same as Saudi Arabia."

The current number in Cuba, a poor third-world country, but a country which actively promotes pre-natal care, making sure that every expectant mother in the country has access to all the pre-natal (and post-natal, of course) care they need? 5.3.

As I have written before, it's easy just to see statistics. These aren't just numbers. They are people. And, in the case of the infant mortality rate, dead people. The birth rate in the United States is 14.2/1000; with a population of 300 million, that makes 4.3 million babies born each year. Blacks are 12.9% of the population, and assuming roughly comparable birth rates, that makes around a half-million Black babies born each year. If that many babies were born in Cuba, 2900 of them would die before age one. But of those babies born to Black mothers in the United States, 7600 die before age one - four thousand, seven hundred "excess" dead Black children (and, by the way, another 5600 "excess" dead White, Asian, and Latino children as well, representing the difference between 6.8 and 5.3/1000). [Readers: feel free to check my math! I'll be glad to correct any errors.]

Capitalism kills. More than ten thousand young babies each year, just for starters. More than three "9/11's." Each year.

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