Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Joy Boy of Joblessness

Live long, don't prosper.

Peter Orszag

That's the advice from one of the brightest young stars in the Plutocratic Galaxy of Greed. If you're whining about being chronically unemployed, just shut up and be grateful. You'll have less risk of turning into highway splat now that you no longer have to commute to work. If you're stuck in the impoverished suburbs, you don't have to breathe in the polluted air in our big city jobs centers. If you're lucky enough to live long enough to become warehoused in a nursing home, rejoice. You'll probably get better care in an economic depression than you would during a boom time. That's because there are theoretically enough people desperate enough to take a $9/hour job emptying bedpans than would have been the case without the government austerity policies dictated by capitalists gone wild.

Former Obama budget director/millionaire Citigroup executive Peter Orzsag has written a sleazy piece citing these and other "findings" to extol the upside of a crappy economy for the little people. And here you thought austerity had been thoroughly debunked!  "This is a morbid column about some unexpected and encouraging news," he cheerfully begins. (I can just envision him sitting at his engraved Apple laptop, cuddled up in a velvet smoking jacket, sipping Courvoisier as he taps out this drivel).
A reasonable estimate is that for every percentage-point increase in the unemployment rate, the U.S. mortality rate drops by 0.3 percentage point. In other words, and although it runs counter to our intuition, recessions may be bad for your our wallets but good for our health.
Orszag cherry-picks his way through various studies, noting that since destitute people can no longer afford to smoke and drink, they're being forced to protect their lungs and livers. He cites the economic collapse in Iceland, and the ensuing improved health of the inhabitants who found themselves priced right out of vice. Strangely, he does not see fit to add that Iceland actually let its banks fail and chose to bail out its people instead. He also doesn't mention that Iceland's recession has essentially ended, thanks to good public policy and a democratic system of government. 

America's depression, for all but the booming stock market and those at the very top, slogs on and on and on. Its long-term health effects are just now getting some serious attention.

To be fair, Orszag wrote his plutocratic puff piece before a more recent study was released, reaching the exact opposite conclusion: Joblessness does indeed shorten lives, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. From today's New York Times
“What is it about employment that has this huge impact on mortality, beyond the material resources it brings?” said Jennifer Karas Montez, the study’s lead author, a researcher at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies.
The study was an attempt to explain the reasons behind the troubling trend of declining life expectancy for the least educated Americans, particularly women. A study last year found that white women without a high school diploma lost five years of life expectancy between 1990 and 2008, a measure of decline last seen among Russians in the economic chaos that came after the fall of the Soviet Union. This year, researchers at the University of Wisconsin found that mortality for women had gone up in more than 40 percent of the counties in the United States since the early 1990s.
But the study raised more questions than it answered, in particular about why employment status affects physical health. Ms. Montez said there was some evidence that having a job offered intangible benefits that could improve health, including a sense of purpose and control in life, as well as providing networks that help to reduce social isolation.
Meanwhile, banker cum health expert Orszag actually thinks that statistics showing that unemployed people get more sleep is a huge plus. He either doesn't know, or chooses not to know, that excessive sleepiness is a sign of clinical depression. Or that the 30% increase in the past decade of our national suicide rate has been directly linked by the Centers for Disease Control to our unaddressed crisis of long-term unemployment. His glib conclusion:
None of which should make us plutocrats wish for economic trouble. (But it does, it does!) Higher unemployment means loss of productivity, lower income and mental anguish, and those are more than sufficient reasons to combat joblessness. There may be some small consolation, though, in learning that it probably doesn’t harm human health the way that we all imagined. (We can ease what little is still left of our Randian consciences, fellas!)
The Pete Peterson Fix the Debt cabal are going to jump all over this piece, and the dubious statistics behind it, in an effort to resurrect austerity policies in the wake of the epic scandal of the flawed Reinhart/Rogoff study. Their new, improved message: the Sequester and all the other whips and chains of gratuitous economic sadism may be painful, but a whole bunch of new cherry-picked stats now shows that they'll help all you peasants live to a shriveled old age.

The better to chain-CPI you with, my dears, said the Orszag wolf at the door. Yes, it is Orszag who's also been championing cuts in Social Security -- not because it'll actually help the economy, but because making people suffer for no good reason will magically tranform his old boss into a Profile in Courage in the eyes of Wall Street. That corner office is waiting.


Anonymous said...

I actually prefer being dead-broke to being a spoke in the great horror that is corporate life. But I negotiated that preference - and livability - only through great good luck. And there's the rub. Those of us who found shade and water after wandering in this great desert economy are less likely to be politically involved - we offend the shade-giving tree at our peril.
Add to that the larger "chilling effect" induced by watching the government's treatment of dissenters, and the silence of those liberals who would normally protest said treatment... there's no wonder people aren't out in the streets.

Pearl said...

Anonymous: To those of you lucky ones afraid to offend your shade tree, remember that you have no assurance that your luck will not end, especially in these voluble times. Then, you might discover that there is no net for you to hold on to since you did not make an attempt to improve matters for others, which you have become.

That same shade tree may also respond to negative conditions around it which may affect its growth and survival and your luck may be short lived.

Anonymous said...

Good point, Pearl. There's also something known as a breather for those who took pretty significant risks in speaking out. Particularly for those of us not protected by social security and Medicare, as, I think, you might be?
But do share what, specifically, you are doing to change the world.

Here's something being done:

the ACLU is bringing a federal lawsuit on behalf of prisoners against the East Mississippi Correctional Facility.

This link provides a photograph of the handwritten letter from one of the prisoners describing his fate:

You don't have to go to Gitmo or Russia of China to find some of the worst human rights abuses in the world... they're in every state. And the victims are even more invisible than those threatened by cuts in Social Security.

Denis Neville said...

Foolishness is Orzag’s own prison cell.

Morally vacuous, our elites mean to do us in.

“It has often been said that power corrupts. But it is perhaps equally important to realize that weakness, too, corrupts. Power corrupts the few, while weakness corrupts the many. Hatred, malice, rudeness, intolerance, and suspicion are the faults of weakness. The resentment of the weak does not spring from any injustice done to them but from their sense of inadequacy and impotence.” ― Eric Hoffer

What is needed is a mass movement with a clearly defined program for all Americans. This will not be easy.

“For men to plunge headlong into an undertaking of vast change, they must be intensely discontented yet not destitute, and they must have the feeling that by the possession of some potent doctrine, infallible leader or some new technique they have access to a source of irresistible power. They must also have an extravagant conception of the prospects and the potentialities of the future. Finally, they must be wholly ignorant of the difficulties involved in their vast undertaking. Experience is a handicap.” ― Eric Hoffer, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements

Zee said...

“What is needed is a mass movement with a clearly defined program for all Americans. This will not be easy.” --Denis Neville (My bold emphasis added.)


One of the things that's interesting about having some geological training is to see how paradigms can shift.

'“Uniformitarianism” is the [working] assumption that the same natural laws and processes the operate in the universe now have always operated in the past...”'

Yet, “Uniformitarianism” is rapidly giving 'way to “Catastrophism” in some particular places in geologic time, to in order to explain certain phenomena that are otherwise difficult to understand within the geologic record:

I could not agree with you more— yet understand less— exactly how such a “mass movement” might ever come about under circumstances that are anything less than nationally—and maybe, globally—“catastrophic.”

Given that I'm part of “all” Americans—I hope—I can see how I might ultimately be marching in the streets and storming such barricades as might be extant:

“my government-backed pension worthless, Social Security gone, Medicare non-existent, and inflation rampant, gutting my savings and investments. (Yet, my guns and ammunition working quite well, thank you very much...)”

But is this really likely to happen all at once?

What I see coming is a “Death by a thousand cuts.” Government will nibble away at my—and your—life piecemeal, but not enough to matter from day to day. We'll hardly even notice it.

I'm 62 years old already. “They” will likely allow me to keep just enough of what is “mine” for the remainder of my life. I will therefore feel no impetus to “take to the streets” as long as I have some hope of dying in some modicum of comfort, for which, at the moment, all signs read positive.

Nor will Pootie, Dot, Eddie, Dink, or the clerk at the Food Lion, take to the streets if they can just make it to their respective graves in what they imagine to be “comfort,” too.

Which brings me to “Catastrophism:”

We have a New World archaeologist here at University of New Mexico who takes a “catastrophist” point of view when it comes to the changing of cultures/civilizations:

In my humble estimation, it will take a true “catastrophe”-- à la David Stuart--to bring about the “mass movement” that you envision. Nothing “peaceful,” nothing “civil.” The “lid” will have to blow off.

Yet it is unlikely that the Powers That Be will allow this to happen. We will always be allowed to be “just well enough off” to get through it all.

So there will be no “catastrophe” that will “blow the lid off,” there will always be just enough “leakage” from the pressure cooker to avoid total disaster.

Welcome to the Brave New World!

Just a theory.

Denis Neville said...

Karen, great reply to Krugman today on food stamps.

Kansas Republican Senator’s raison d'etre: Food stamps must be cut to save them!

“You’ve got a lot of situations where folks are really gaming the system, and that’s not right. We have exploded the program to the degree that it becomes a target, and I just want to avoid that. Taxpayers are fed up with wasteful spending.” - Republican Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas.

Kansas makers, not the takers - Kansas farm subsidies:
• $16.4 billion in subsidies 1995-2012
• Ten percent of Kansas farms collected 70 percent of all subsidies; $28,163 average per year
• Amounting to $9.00 billion over 18 years
• Kansas ranking: 6 of 50 States

Kansas takers, not makers:
• 428,490 food insecure people
• 46% are below the SNAP threshold of 130% poverty level.

So where is the Democratic outrage? In Kansas, Democrats are on the endangered species list.

Karen Garcia said...

Thanks, Denis. Once again, Krugman saw fit to omit the Democratic complicity in the cuts, thereby unleashing a torrent of outrage against the more strident Reptilians. My comment was basically a rehash of something I posted here just recently, but here's the second helping anyway:

Of course, the Republicans are willing to cut programs that benefit regular people. It's their whole raison d'etre.

So where is the Democratic outrage? Instead of shouting them down, some of them are willing to compromise. That's what it'll take to ram through the $940 billion farm bill, giving the food industry its corporate welfare due. The ranking Dem on the House Agriculture Committee, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, is now trying to rustle up support among his fellows to cut SNAP benefits. He says it's "ridiculous" not to, record unemployment be damned. Guess who his main campaign contributors are? The factory farm lobby, the ag equipment lobby, and the dairy and sugar industries.

Meanwhile, nobody is suggesting cancelling the $80 million taxpayer bailout to sugar manufacturers. Nor is it likely that the corporate SNAP debit card vendors will be taking a hit on their own sweet deals.

The average food stamp recipient gets a stipend of only about $120 a month, and most people report running out by the middle of the third week. So even a "balanced bipartisan approach" to cuts in this program would be the height of cruelty.

And how about this for a scandal: JP MorganChase CEO Jamie Dimon actually charges a quarter every time a New York SNAP client checks her debit card balance. One little electronic click is one less glass of milk for a child in a struggling family.

Shame? What shame? It's not in the DNA of the ruling class takers. Too much is never enough for them.

spreadoption said...

One of the Obamabots wrote in support of that Krugman column on food stamps: "Mr. Boehner, where is your jobs bills?"

These people, including Krugman most especially, who blindly support Obama, are the ones we need to wake up.

My tart reply to her: "Mr. Boehner, where is your jobs bills?" Mr. Obama, where is YOUR jobs bill?

Outsida said...

The defense contractors are now in on the food stamp deal too. Northrup-Grumman just got the contract to run Montana's program and I think they are in Illinois also.

If a defense contractor is getting in on the action, you can bet insiders know that this program will continue in perpetuity. Any 'cuts' are only part of the charade of jeopardizing it in order to 'save' it. The Big Boys will get the contracts from Big Brother. They're all just one big happy family.

You can bet they will then WELCOME more poor people (now that's a scary thought!). There will never a shortage of taxpayer money when it goes to defense contractors and their bankster buddies.

Karen Garcia said...

Joe Nocera calls Obama a torturer. My comment:

Based upon its own recent history of torture and drone assassinations and suppression of free speech, the United States no longer has the moral standing to issue condemnations of human rights violations
in other countries.

"Kerry Castigates Russia Over Missiles" is one current Times headline sure to inspire a yawn among friends and enemies alike. Ditto for "Hagel Issues Stern Warning to China."

It has now been a week since President Obama gave his flag-draped, jingoistic speech, in which insisted that the abuses of Gitmo are "not who we are."

Imprisonment without trial -- not who we are. "Immoral but legal" drone strikes -- not who we are. Spying on reporters and criminalizing journalism and prosecuting whistleblowers -- not who we are.

Methinks the gentleman doth protest too much. It may not be who we are, but it is most certainly what defines his administration. Rumor has it that he's concerned about his legacy. Therefore, even if he harbors no empathy for the suffering Gitmo detainees, he should at least make a show of humanism, if only to ensure that the history books will be lukewarm rather than scathing.

Otherwise, he should start booking his speaking engagement duets with George Bush sooner rather than later. And definitely avoid any post-presidency trips to countries where they take the Geneva Conventions seriously.

Suzan said...

Brava, Karen!

I look at the smug self-satisfied faces of these proudly clever Obamabots and see a world gone mad.

Imagine if you'd grown up with these as the successful national figures you were supposed to emulate.

When Henry Kissinger and Westmoreland and other military brasses came to campuses when I was a student, they were booed (although, of course, they were allowed to speak).

Hell, Christopher Hitchens wrote a book about Kissinger detailing his criminal activities and calling for his trial. Granted this was before he was "adopted" by the neolibs (Wolfowitz, Feith, et al.) and then died suddenly of cancer.

Now everyone in government looks upon Kissinger as a great success and a role model.

And our local police personnel have been inducted into the Homeland Insecurity brigade with fancy flak suits and weaponry making the rise of a fascist youth organization like Hitler's a moot point.

We've got to build a new US from the ground up.

Populated by true democrats.

If we can find enough people who remember what that means.


Love ya,


James F Traynor said...

Sad, isn't it? Zee's 'idea' is pretty much on. As is Karen's point about the Democrats' compromising - by us, not them. And Anonymous is right about speaking out. It's dangerous, always was, and even more so now.You have to be prepared to pay the price.

Pearl said...

There have been a number of critical articles in the N.Y.Times about the
health care system in the U.S. Today's is about comparative pricing among different countries for procedures, medications and the contrast to other countries is shocking. They asked people to write in about their experiences. At least a thousand answers have been printed, practically all telling of monthly costs equaling their mortgages, continual rising prices,
arguing with insurance coverage restrictions, never knowing what it will cost them should there be a medical problem, anxiety about their future, having to work longer than they would like before retirement in order to keep their medical coverage,ad infinitum.
I hope Krugman reads these comments and they should be sent to Obama but I doubt he would take the time to read them.
The only satisfied people lived in Canada or moved to other countries to
have their health needs taken care of without going bankrupt.
I would like to see a breakdown of where and to whom the bloated U.S. costs end up and how much profit is involved and why there are no regulations involved.
And as several of you have mentioned, where are the protests, where is the
marching, where are the organized opposition actions? This issue alone will destroy any hopes for a decent future in the wealthiest country in the world.

Zee said...


I would be grateful if you—or anyone else in this forum—could provide a link to the NYT stories on healthcare “experiences” to which you refer.

I'm not looking to be critical or suspicious, merely curious.

Insofar as I can understand it, America's outrageous health care costs relate to our utterly opaque “costing” system, and our peculiar hospital billing system:

For elective procedures such as “lasik,” your friendly neighborhood opthamologist can quote you the cost—per eye—to the penny, on the radio, no less. As I understand it, that's because your insurance—and mine—won't pay for “lasik” unless it's medically necessary. So your doc can quote you a flat rate. You will get exactly what you pay for.

But for “medically necessary” procedures such as cataract surgery, good luck trying to find out what your bill will be until you have signed on the dotted line with your particular surgeon, and he has “coded” it for insurance billing purposes.

Then, the actual bill—as I understand it—will be between your doc and your particular insurance company, and you get to pick up the rest, after the fact. You're only told what your “share” will likely be after you are committed and they're all but sticking the IV drip in.

Not exactly “comparison shopping,” is it?

Some transparency in what we are actually paying for—from doctor-to-doctor, and hospital-to-hospital— might go a way toward cutting our health care costs.

As would knowing something about success rates from doc-to-doc and hospital-to-hospital, beyond your GP's recommendation.

But I suspect that we're not supposed to be privy to such statistics, are we? That just might damage the good doctors' egos, mightn't it?

How dare we ask just how good they are?