Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The strange phenomenon of white people dying (II)

In trouble

We've lost our story, lost the narrative that once upon a time strung together our lives and our purpose and vision. So says Princeton economist and researcher Angus Deaton, who just won the Nobel Prize. It's an amazing story about startling findings, and all of it bears repeating (I posted about the same research two days ago).

The same Sunday that Russ Douthat, the New York Times politically conservative op-ed columnist, held forth on the extraordinary findings of Deaton and Case, so did Paul Krugman. Opinion pieces on the same subject in the same edition of the Times is not particularly unusual, but two columnists who traditionally represent polar opposite viewpoints writing on such a formidable topic and essentially agreeing--that's news. 

Let's review. What this Deaton and Case study shows is that the death rate among white, uneducated American citizens is increasing steadily; more and more white, uneducated men and women in this country are dying young, mostly notably because of suicide (you read that right) and various diseases arising from drug and alcohol abuse. While death rates for people of color are most definitely going up, white people are dying younger than they were a decade ago--and really, get this!--often at their own hands.

Not blacks. Not Hispanics. White folks. White folks without education. They're not dying earlier in sunny California or the northeast, traditional bastions of progressive (which is to say, "liberal") thinking. 

Where then are they dying? Low or stagnant or declining life expectancy is concentrated, the study says, in the Bible Belt. 

In. The. Bible. Belt.

Does this study help us to understand American politics? 

Maybe it's still too early to judge, but most political observers claim this season's scorecard can't really be understood traditionally. Donald Trump for POTUS? Really? A madcap billionaire with three wives and a portfolio is full of casinos? Say, what?

Or Dr. Ben Carson, whose understanding of a ton of important issues facing this country is sketchy at best, but whose demeanor and soft-spoken humility draw disciples in a fashion unlike anything anyone has ever seen. Neither have ever held public office. Any. Nor have they run. Never. Now, they want the White House, and a hearty chunk of the electorate is seemingly ready to lay down the red carpet.

Something strange is going on.

Or this: Just this morning, The Hill reports that the latest McClatchy-Marist poll has Bernie Sanders, who refuses to delete the word "socialist" from the way he's introduced, absolutely trouncing Donald Trump in an Presidential election, were it held today. Landslide.

Something's off the rails here; something is in the wind.

So what does Paul Krugman say about the research of Deaton and Case?

"At this point you probably expect me to offer a solution," he says, and we do. Krugman is not shy about his opinions and they're almost always significantly left of center. "The truth is," he writes, "we don't really know why despair appears to be spreading across middle America. But clearly it is, with troubling consequences for our society as a whole."

Something significant seems to be afoot, but no one from either side of the aisle seems to know exactly why.



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