By R Carter
Behind the headlines of the opioid crisis, regardless of cause, hides a more sinister and less understood problem, a 24% increase in suicides for both males and females in all age groups under 75. There are hints of this in the number of overdose deaths from poly drug use, but the leading methods chosen by most remains the use of guns.
Something more universal must be behind these trends of suicides, yet the methods currently used to capture and track the data fall short for many reasons. Cost of capturing and analyzing data or political motivations are an often sighted reasons, also the need for secrecy or privacy being another. Then there are those efforts to distort truth as news such as this often becomes an opportunity change some facts to fit an agenda, weaponizing the data for an alternative goal. This latter area seems like the new battle ground on which we fight as nations now attack nations in an effort to distort reality for private ends. If you can’t win someone over to your point of view then poison the well from which they drink.
Other causes for inaction are blamed on the astronomical increase in the cost of basic research and publishing, with newer online publications being far less focused on academic benefits and more on profit, a singular goal of publishing what sells, not what benefits us. And why not, when the appetite of the consumer leans towards the salacious dysfunction of doing what feels good rather than doing what is good for you.
Other universal causes for suicides have been suggested In western culture, such as the growing number of unemployed, as jobs are more quickly phased out and replaced by technology or shipped to 3rd world nations. Changes continue to occur rapidly and are wide spread, in some cases causing entire industries to rise and disappear in half a human life time. Forcing some individuals to retrain for new careers more than twice in their life, as our life expectancy now approaches 70.
An article by Olga Khazan in The Atlantic, “The True Cause of the Opioid Epidemic” and referenced in this post, looked at the connection between joblessness and the opioid overdose problem. Another article by Allison Milner, Andrew Page, Anthony D. LaMontagne on PLOS ONE, “Long-Term Unemployment and Suicide: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis” looked at the contribution of long term unemployment as a primary cause of suicide.
While change is inevitable, it’s the pace of change over the last thirty years, more than anything else, which seems to be the common root cause. Combined with the loss of income suffered during a job change and the cost of reeducating for positions which require higher technical skills, many with established families can no longer afford the cost of reeducating.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost per year for the 2015-2016 academic year was just over $19,000 for a public four-year university. The figure jumps to nearly $40,000 for a private university. These totals include tuition, fees, room and board. Forbes reports that the price of a college education has now outpaced earned wages by 800% and has been a major contributor to why many students continue to live at home with parents for up to a decade after graduating from college.
Behind all this is a growing disparity between the wealthiest individuals and those at lower economic levels.This is often a sighted complaint without weighing the individuals themselves. For example in the US three men have a net worth which is more than half of all Americans. But more important than the wealth they have accumulated is what each has done with that wealth, through philanthropic efforts. Jeff Bezos has given 12% of his net worth to philanthropic efforts, Bill Gate $35.8 billion since creating his foundation and Warren Buffett has given 32% of his net worth to charitable causes. Still, the richest 5% of Americans own two thirds of all wealth in the US while most remain active in philanthropic efforts. With such examples it seems the disparity is less of an issue and what is more important is the ethical values which guided them to these positions.
In the middle is the rise in white collar crime, which has also contributed to a rise in cost to the nation. According to National Fraud Center statistics, the cost of economic crime has risen from $5 billion in 1970 to $100 billion in 1990, and is only expected to increase as occurrences become more frequent. White collar crime has nearly replaced all other forms of criminal proceedings in our justice system as the other 95% of us, scramble to climb the ladder of personal wealth.
We seem to be divided at every strata of our society and destine for anarchy if personal wealth is the accepted standard for measuring success in life. Without a awakening of moral and ethical values that will guide us to civility, in another generations there may be too few of us to produce those goods and services. Or worse yet in our quest for more, we may take an Orwellian path of cannibalizing our own as we become only a nation of factory owners, with a 3rd world labor force.
Solutions with Wealth Disparity
I’ve heard radical ideas of capping personal wealth or corporate profits as a solution to these problems, with those who make such suggestions forgetting that if we did, we would lose our leadership potion in the world as other countries failed to follow a similar methods.It is necessity as a nation that we have such wealth in a world, as we slowly become a global community. But we also need to create a level playing field that allows individuals the grace to fail in life and start again, which is why we have bankruptcy laws and other methods for erasing our failures.
My mother has spoken of an old Jewish tradition called the Year of Jubilee, where every 49th year ownership of noncommercial land was returned to the original owners free of charge, slaves were also freed during this time. It was also a tradition in this time and well into the 16th century that when someone asked to borrow money, you were obligated to give it as a gift, interest free. Those who didn’t were eventually known as Shylock’s, a name from the Shakespeare play, The Merchant of Venice, loan shark would be an acronym for today. The point in this line of thought is that there have always been examples of philanthropic efforts as well as those with criminal intent lacking moral and ethical values. We may have a system that operates differently today, but we still have many examples of both, laws which deter crime and charity which helps the needy, we simply don’t give the charity the attention and recognition it deserves.
Many forget the statistics we use in our modern era our recent inventions which don;t have a long history of data to draw from. Some have said that a sign of the end is when our nation begins building schools and universities outside the US, to fill those jobs they have farmed out of the US. If you think this is too radical of an idea, one look at the leading US online Universities should be a wake up call to what is happening.
With such trends now upon us, the future of the American worker is bleak indeed. Only those willing to make a maximum sacrifice will rise above the economic rubble they grew up in. And only those willing to retrain and reeducate more than once in a life time, will survive the rapid pace of change which is now upon us.