For several decades now the American Midwest has suffered from unprecedented economic decay courtesy of a persistent outsourcing of manufacturing jobs in the automotive and steel industries, among others. As we’ve noted frequently, that economic decay has resulted in a devastating surge in opioid overdoses that claim the lives of 100s of people each year.
Of course, many attribute Trump’s staggering victories in states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania to his efforts to tap into the frustration of the dispossessed Midwest masses by promising a rebirth of the manufacturing economy that once provided them a solid middle-class lifestyle.
That said, no economic crisis is truly “discovered” until an Ivy League, Nobel-prize-winning economist says it is. As such, we present to you the intriguing findings of Nobel Laureate Angus Deaton who said he was “looking for something else” when he noticed a staggering increase in white mortality rates for people aged 50-54. Per Market Watch:
That was the case with landmark research undertaken by Nobel Prize winning economist Angus Deaton. The Princeton economist, working with his wife Anne Case, stumbled on the fact that mortality rates were rising for working-age white Americans since 1999.
We were really looking for something else and then we discovered that, at least among people between 45-54, and even more between 50-54, a decline in mortality, particularly white mortality that had been established for about 100 years had actually stopped or even reversed itself. Whether it has reversed itself or not depends on a bit on your starting point and end point, but the century-long decline in mortality rates that had gone on since the beginning of the 20th century had just stopped and was starting to rise.
For mortality rates to rise instead of fall is extremely rare. It typically takes a war or epidemic for death rates to jump.
Of course, from there it wasn’t much of a stretch for Deaton and Case to ‘discover’ that these deaths are tied to “deaths of despair” from alcohol, suicide and opioids.
Then comes the far more difficult question of ‘why’ the mortality rates are surging for middle-aged, white men…something Deaton attributes to a bleak job market and stagnant wages…
As to the more difficult question of “why” these deaths are taking pace, Deaton hypothesized that they are tied to a destruction of a way of life for working class Americans that used to exist.
“I’ve been using the analogy of the plains Indians, they had had a life which you might have liked or might not have liked before Europeans came to America and that life was destroyed and was never put back together again. I think we’re seeing that for the American working class over the last 40 or 50 years,” he said in a recent speech.
So we trace this back sort of a long way, and if you look at birth cohorts it is like each successive birth cohort is doing worse. They are more susceptible to these deaths throughout life, and the deaths rise with age more rapidly for younger cohorts, so we’re attracted by this idea that there is a cumulative process going on which is steadily getting worse over time. And, you know, the destruction of the way of life of the white working class is maybe a good way of thinking about this.
One story is just that there has been this slow loss of the white working class life. There has been stagnation in wages for 50 years. If you don’t have a university degree, median wages for those people have actually been going down. So it is just like that model, whereby American capitalism really delivered to people who were not particularly well-educated, seems to be broken.
Of course, pretty much anyone with a grade school education who has lived in Detroit for an extended period of time could have told you everything that Deaton has apparently ‘discovered’…but it does sound very official coming from a Princeton economist.