Wealth & Death – Part 1


Today’s brutal wealth wars are literally a matter of life and death. JAMA just published an article confirming, again, the stark reality that the poor live significantly shorter and sicker lives than the wealthy. http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2513561


The rich have a longer life-expectancy – 14.6 years more life for men and 10.1 years more life for woman. This is just the most recent study that I saw while reading Dr. Michael Marmot’s book The Health Gap (2015).  His book lays out convincing evidence that global life expectancy and health differ vastly among people and that this is tied closely to the “social gradient” of wealth.


Scores of medical studies establish the causes of death and disease – high blood pressure, obesity, smoking, alcohol abuse, occupational injury, stress, depression, suicide, etc. Sir Marmot probes into the causes of these causes.  He concludes that the underlying reason for many causes of death and disease is economic disempowerment.  In other words, psychosocial disadvantage from wealth inequality is killing people and making them sick.


Money, it seems, is critical to health and not just absolute wealth. How much money someone has relative to others influences their “degree of empowerment” – freedom to be and do.   But should Government do anything about this?  People are dying after all.  Is responsibility for health public or is it each individual’s responsibility?  Dr. Marmot’s strongly believes that this is a big public health and public wealth problem.  His critics point out that the bad health of the poor is their own fault because many of the factors are behavioral (obesity, smoking, alcoholism, sedentary lifestyle).


Bad health decisions may be explained by the idea of “rational addiction”. Rational choice theory holds that people value present pleasure and satisfaction greater while discounting the future.  We know that consuming pizza and cheeseburgers all the time or cigarettes and whiskey are not good for your body but people do it anyway.  I should go to the gym, but it sure feels good just to sit here and binge watch TV.  I should save for retirement but that new car is so cool.  It takes discipline to overcome the natural inclination to live in the present.  The poor have much shorter sighted decision making capacity.  They can’t control their attention spotlight (see my 4/5/16 post).  They have a much shorter time span of discretion (see my 3/29/16 post).


But it’s not their fault! The poor aren’t just mentally weak.  Growing extreme wealth inequality results in the poor population making decisions under scarcity (with stress and worry), while the rich make decisions under abundance.  (see my 11/17/15 post – the book Scarcity is cited in Dr. Marmot’s book).  If you have a wealth war chest, you are fortunate enough to be living with a mental luxury that is unavailable to the poor.  It’s a powerful sword to wield against death.  Next week, we’ll look at the philosophical arguments for whether or not Government should (or should not) tear open up your war chest and the war chests of the elite wealthy and re-distribute global capital more fairly.  Economic Justice for All!


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