Sunday, March 31, 2013

Neoliberalism—an occasion of sin?

One of Christianity's (and probably a lot of other religious practices) more logical teachings is the idea of "an occasion of sin."  Let's say someone has a problem of getting into drunken brawls.  According to this teaching, it is not merely good enough to feel sorry for the problems caused by this brawling, the penitent must alter his life so that he avoids those situations where he could be induced to brawl.  Stay sober and out of those bars where the fighting usually starts.  In this case, the tough-guy bar is the occasion of sin.  And the means to virtue comes from avoiding those occasions of sin.

The interesting question these days is: Are the practices and teachings of neoliberalism an occasion of sin?  I would argue that it is.  Since the main goal of neoliberalism is to reduce the living standards of the great majority so that a tiny minority can become fabulously wealthy, it is apparent that the crimes and tribulations that blossom when living standards fall can logically be blamed on the teachings of the neoliberals.  In other words, the economics being taught at our most august schools of higher learning are at least as evil as the rowdiest shit-kicking bar in the land.

So today, we highlight those serious blows to the health of Western Europeans that follow in the wake of government actions designed to rescue the crazy (and evil) neoliberal experiment.  Keep in mind these health catastrophes are not new. When the neoliberals got Boris Yeltsin's ear in the 1990s, life expectancy for Russian men dropped precipitously.  In fact, health standards have dropped whenever the IMF has imposed its "conditionalities" on governments caught in debt traps—beginning with the global economic meltdowns of 1981-82. But this time it is different—it's now happening to white Europeans who used to be quite prosperous.

Time to walk out of that neoliberal shit-kicking bar.  It's making us sin in myriad and profound ways.  Spring is about new life.  Time we emerged from the darkness of what George HW Bush so accurately called "voodoo economics."

Shredded Social Safety Net: European Austerity Costing Lives


As the euro crisis wears on, the tough austerity measures implemented in ailing member states are resulting in serious health issues, a study revealed on Wednesday. Mental illness, suicide rates and epidemics are on the rise, while access to care has dwindled.

The rigid austerity measures brought on by the euro crisis are having catastrophic effects on the health of people in stricken countries, health experts reported on Wednesday.

Not only have the fiscal austerity policies failed to improve the economic situation in these countries, but they have also put a serious strain on their health care systems, according to an analysis of European health by medical journal The Lancet. Major cuts to public spending and health services have brought on drastic deterioration in the overall health of residents, the journal reported, citing the outbreak of epidemics and a spike in suicides.

In addition to crippling public health care budgets, the deep austerity measures implemented since the economic crisis began in 2008 have increased unemployment and lowered incomes, causing depression and prompting sick people to wait longer before seeking help or medication, the study found.

The countries most affected by this have been Portugal, Spain and Greece, the latter of which saw outbreaks of both malaria and HIV after programs for mosquito spraying and needle exchanges for intravenous drug users were axed. There were also outbreaks of West Nile virus and dengue fever.

"Austerity measures haven't solved the economic problems and they have also created big health problems," Martin McKee, a professor of European Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who led the research, told news agency AP.

It will take years to understand the health consequences of the euro crisis and the policies it has prompted, but some effects are already clear, the study said. Not only has there been an increase of mental disorders in Greece and Spain, but the number of suicides for those younger than 65 has increased in the EU since 2007 -- "reversing a steady decrease." In Greece, the Ministry of Health reported a 40 percent jump in suicides between January and May 2011, compared to the same period the year before.

Officials Accused of Ignoring Problems

While budget cuts have restricted health care access with increased costs for patients in these three nations, Greece has also seen shortages in medication, hospital staff and supplies, according to the study, commissioned in part by the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies, a partner of the World Health Organization.

The study authors also accuse European officials of failing to address these issues, writing that "public health experts have remained largely silent during this crisis."

"There is a clear problem of denial of the health effects of the crisis, even though they are very apparent," lead researcher McKee told Reuters, comparing their response to the "obfuscation" of the tobacco industry. "The European Commission has a treaty obligation to look at the health effect of all of its policies but has not produced any impact assessment on the health effects of the austerity measures imposed by the troika."

The troika, made up of the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund, has been in charge of bailing out ailing European economies -- most recently in Cyprus -- and of policing the implementation of the austerity measures the study blames for deteriorating health in these countries.

But it doesn't have to be that way, the study suggests, citing Iceland as a success story. Though the country was one of the first to be hit by the financial crisis, it "rejected the economic orthodoxy that advocated austerity … and invested in its people who, evidence suggests, have had very few adverse health consequences." more
And another take on the same The Lancet study.

EU in 'denial' that sick economy costs lives, say health experts

Europe's financial crisis is costing lives, with suicides and infectious diseases on the rise, yet politicians are not addressing the problem, health experts said on Wednesday.

Deep budget cuts and growing unemployment are tipping more people into depression, and falling incomes mean fewer people can see their doctors or afford to buy medicines.

The result has been a reversal since 2007 of a long-term decline in suicide rates, coupled with worrying outbreaks of diseases including HIV - and even malaria - in Greece, according to an major analysis of European health in The Lancet journal.

Countering these threats requires strong social protection schemes, researchers argue. But the austerity measures imposed after a string of crises in southern Europe - most recently in Cyprus - has shredded such safety nets.

"There is a clear problem of denial of the health effects of the crisis, even though they are very apparent," said lead researcher Martin McKee of the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies, a group backed by the World Health Organisation.

"The European Commission has a treaty obligation to look at the health effect of all of its policies but has not produced any impact assessment on the health effects of the austerity measures imposed by the troika."

The so-called troika of the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund is the group of lenders responsible for a series of economic bail-outs.

McKee said the failure of European governments and the European Commission to face up to the health consequences of their policies was reminiscent of the "obfuscation" of the tobacco industry over curbs on smoking.

The case of Iceland, however, suggests there is an alternative.

Despite a devastating financial crisis, Iceland rejected austerity, following a referendum, and instead continued to invest in its social welfare system. As a result, the researchers found there had been no discernible effects on health since the crisis.

Iceland's economy has now returned to growth, but the recovery is patchy and inflation has remained stubbornly high.

By contrast, McKee and colleagues reported that healthcare systems were now under strain in many European countries, including Spain, Portugal and Greece, with a series of negative consequences.

In particular, there is a growing trend for patients to seek care at a later stage, even though this will mean worse outcomes for individuals and higher costs for the healthcare system in the long term.

In Greece, meanwhile, hospitals are struggling to maintain basic standards, resulting in a rise in antibiotic resistant infections, and patients have suffered shortages of a number of medicines, including epilepsy treatments. more
Back in the world where the neoliberals are still taken seriously, Paul Krugman notes that by the standards that used to be universal throughout the economics profession, the neoliberals are now running up a record that makes the economists who brought us the Great Depression look enlightened by comparison.

Europe’s Second Depression

Paul Krugman March 29, 2013

Europe in 2013 has recovered worse from its slump than Europe in 1935. Again, great work, guys.  more

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