Monday, July 14, 2008

Life Expectancy and Capitalism

Several news reports recently lamented findings that, "despite being one of the richest countries in the world, America has dropped from 11th to 42nd place in 20 years, according to official US figures."  There was lots of speculation as to why that is: "a combination of expensive health insurance and an ever-increasing rate of obesity appear to be behind a startling fall by the US in the world rankings of life expectancy."

But tumbling life expectancy doesn't surprise this author in the least, as America ranks number 4 in the Heritage Foundation's "Economic Freedom Index."  The U.S. economy is "82% free" according to the HF.  The second strongest factor sited as a contributer to that average of 82% is that we score a 92.1 in terms of "labor freedom."  According to the HF, the "flexibility" of our labor market is a high point.  What does "flexibility" in this context refer to?  It's the lack of strong labor unions, firing and layoffs are easier and more frequent in the U.S., outsourcing American jobs is not a problem, there's more competition among labor, combined with downward competitive pressures of average workers' wage stagnation over many years now while investment income increasingly pours into the hands of the wealthiest, workers are working more hours for less and less, taking second jobs, etc.; in a nutshell workers (which describes the majority of us) are more stressed.  

Recent studies from any and all relevant disciplines indicate that stress is a killer.  Aging itself is said to be in large part an accumulation of stress events.  And Americans are more driven by status and the culture of capitalism and it's idea of success.  It's obviously a deadly combination.  

Other more "socialist" economies are vaulting ahead of the U.S. in terms of life expectancy. I believe that one of the many things that will eventually turn back the practice of unchecked free-market capitalism will be the trending health movement. More and more Americans are paying attention to caring about their health, which is antithetical to continued risk- and winner-take-all oriented economics. Brain science is indicating cooperative behaviors and attitudes, including loving, touching, safety, security, and wishing each other well are far healthier for the brain and in turn our bodies, spawns greater intelligence and creativity, and have an especially marked effect on child brain development (public schools are heavily promoting brain science these days).  

So while the Heritage Foundation attempts to equate greater "economic freedom" to higher living standards, I think life expectancy tolls a bell that will begin to replace "economic freedom" with human freedom.

"Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body."  (1 Cor. 6:19-20)

Friday, July 11, 2008

Capitalism's Most Glaring Inefficiency

Let's say you want to start a new business.  What good will be produced or service you will provide is key to its success.  Are you going to provide a needed product or service for impoverished, starving people who will die today?  For middle class people struggling to make ends meet, with little disposable income?  Or are you rather going to provide or produce something targeted at the trivial desires of the wealthy?

Which target market is most likely to provide your new startup with the best chance for success?

One of the darkest aspects of capitalism is that it continuously prioritizes the most trivial needs or desires of those who least need it, first.  Needs of the impoverished or starving (keep in mind capitalism is now for the most part a global system) are not likely to ever be met by any free-market mechanism, because there's simply no profit in it.

The latest fashions, colors, this year's gotta-havit toy, stadium luxury boxes, or the newest model Hummers are given priority over food for the hungry or health care for those who most need it, because free-market capitalism dictates it.