Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Economy and Our Health

Even though I am not an economist I feel the need to say a few things about what is happening in our country. After all, I am a semester short of a master’s in Health Administration and I read voraciously on Economics, Politics, Anthropology, History and other related subjects. As a doctor I feel that what is happening in our society deeply affects my health and that of my family, friends and patients.

In my opinion our Fascist system of government (politicians and corporations in bed together) is finally threatening to kill the golden goose. A country’s economy is but a reflection of people’s hard work, not the electronic shenanigans Fat Cats engage in on Wall Street. The infamous “revolving door” ensures that the elite who rule Washington leave government to become CEOs or advisors to corporations who handsomely reward them with golden parachutes. And it works the other way around, too. For example, Secretary of the Treasury Paulson used to be the CEO of Goldman Sachs. Does that tell you anything? Even Newt Gringrich feels Mr. Paulson should have resigned over this deal.

Big Pharma, Big Food and Health insurance companies are part of the problem. This is why our Health Care system is in chaos. Sadly, these problems were entirely predictable by those who read history: it has happened in every country. Now it is our turn.

I am not saying that business or money themselves are bad things. On the contrary, business is such a big part of our nature that some people feel Homo sapiens would be more accurately named “Homo economicus.” (J. Science 2002;296:1243) Adam Smith said that “business is a grand and noble enterprise.” What is often forgotten is that Adam Smith also said that

“People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices… It is impossible to prevent such meetings… but the law ought not to facilitate such assemblies, much less render them necessary.” (“The Wealth of Nations.”)

Adam Smith added, “Most of the world troubles come from somebody not knowing when to stop and be content.” (“Theory of Moral Sentiment.”) Inexorably, corporations, institutions and the people running them start with the goal to do good but end up hell-bent on doing well. In the name of restricting government and deregulating to help the “invisible hand” make us all better off, corporations and the richest have done away with rules that were there to protect us from this unmitigated greed. I say the “invisible hand” is now visibly reaching deeper into our back pockets…

Perhaps Ronald Reagan’ swords in a 1965 speech are more convincing:

“A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover they can vote for themselves largesse out of the public treasury. From that moment on the majority… always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits from the treasury with the result that democracy always collapses over a loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship.”

Now, the Fat Cats want golden parachutes made from the “largesse of the public treasury” as they scramble for the exit door. They want our tax money with no strings attached because they have grown used to “corporate welfare” from their cronies in the government. Never mind us struggling with our rising health insurance premiums and mortgages. We didn’t have the money to fix Health Care or fund Alternative Energy programs, but all of a sudden we have $700 billion to give away. Hopefully by the time the bailout is voted into law American swill also get a rescue package and strings do get attached.

I am compelled to opine on how we got into this mess: ever since the dawn of mankind those with the most marbles control the game. Even though the European revolutions and our own in the USA appeared to give control to common folk, those with the most marbles never went away. They just learned to play the game differently. But, slowly and sometimes overtly, those with the most marbles reassert their control over ANY form of government we care mention.

They learned to give us “bread and circus” or cheap food and cheap entertainment with many choices to feel like we are free. We get bombarded by childish commercials to entice us to spend money we don’t have; but there is always the 9 credit cards an average American carries. With them, we can “keep the economy growing and be true patriots.” In my opinion a true patriot saves money and avoids being brainwashed by corporations who stoke our immature fires of instant gratification through “conspicuous consumption.”

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that by overspending we get in trouble. No matter how the denizens of Wall Street spin the situation, it simply boils down to deregulation leaving us vulnerable to Darwinian Capitalism and getting in debt. Our government continues to shift income from the majority to the few who know how to game the system. The result is massive debt both in government and our own finances

Our Founding Fathers warned us about all this. Lincoln, Jackson and Eisenhower said it very clearly themselves. The results are clear: Fascism does not work. Unfortunately, We The People deserve any form of government we end up with. Take it from Lincoln: “All forms of government end up in a plutocracy.”

Will the Democrats fix this mess? I doubt it. Are the Republicans more capable? Probably not.

In my opinion, both are nothing but puppets of our “shadow government.” They want us to fight and attack each other with stupid kindergarten issues. The more we buy into the rhetoric coming from both parties the more “the man behind the curtain” wins. So, as we go into the Presidential elections I hope we don’t continue to attack each other and end up divided right down the aisle, again…

No doubt some will say that I am a conspiracy freak. Maybe I am, but Fascism is a historical fact and it is out in the open; there is no conspiracy when the signs of greed are so patently exposed for all to see. Surely many in Utah (the reddest state, where I live) will say I am a pinko liberal. I am not. Remember that Rockefeller condemned competition at the top and together with J.P. Morgan, Ford, Vanderbilt and other Robber Barons financed, yes, financed Karl Marx and the Communist Revolution. Look it up… “It’s déjà vu all over again.” They always bet on both sides and then cuddle up to the winning side. So, before you start partisan rhetoric, think twice about who wins when we indulge in partisan dogma.

What else can we do? Buy gold and follow your churches’ advise to support each other in your local communities. (See October newsletter.) Become as self-sufficient as possible. Get out of debt. Stop eating garbage food that is driving 85% of your health problems. Continue to read about more natural ways to maintain and restore health, such as the items you see documented in this newsletter.

I cannot see writing about nutrition without discussing the forces at play that may compromise our ability to feed and shelter ourselves properly in the future. This month I review again two articles on this topic from previous issues.

“Future Health Consequences of the Current Decline in US Household Income,”
JAMA 2007;298:1931
  • People with incomes below $50,000 have shorter lifespan. They are more likely to receive poor health care. Education, race, environment also play a role.
  • Poverty has gone up from 11.7% to 12.6% since 2000. The numbers of those with incomes of $8,000 below poverty level increased by 45%. Except for the rich, personal income has decreased. Income inequality is widening. A booming economy is only benefiting the rich. The ratio between CEOs’ incomes and that of their employees has gone from 26 in 1965 to 245 in 2002.
  • These trends will likely result in worse health in all Americans but the rich. There will be more uninsured people. The answer: education in an information society. 40% more heart disease is seen in those without a High School diploma.

“Poverty and Health” by Robert Sapolsky. J. Scientific American, December 2005, p92
  • During a typhus epidemic in Europe there was more disease in the poor
  • Those in power always subjugate the powerless.
  • Conventional explanation that the poor lack health care and have harmful lifestyles does not explain health discrepancy. Chronic stress of poverty does; the poor feel poorer. “Poverty gets under the skin.” The poor have no outlets to express frustration.
  • Stress harmful when there is no sense of control, no knowledge of how long stress will last and there are few outlets to frustration. Stress is evidence of conditions worsening and lack of social support. Primates have higher cortisol levels (sign of stress) when subordinate.
  • Income inequality correlates with health much better: every step down Socio Economic Status, SES increases poor health: the poorest have a 10-fold increase in diseases.
  • Of all Western nations the US has the steepest gradient or income inequality: poorest white males in America die a decade earlier than the richest.
  • American nuns study: they shared living conditions, diet, etc, but still the SES 50 years earlier, when they joined, determined patterns of disease. These problems are not seen in Canada or Denmark where they have smaller inequality.
  • Endless reminders of poverty, having one’s nose rubbed in it make stress worse.
  • Spending money on public works is not a priority for the rich. They prefer to keep taxes for themselves, not public good. This is known as the “secession of the wealthy.” The more unequal the community, the more the wealthy oppose public works.
  • Ichiro Kawachi from Harvard talks about “Social Capital:” people feeling like they have a sense of community. With low social capital we see poorer health. He added that…

“America has neglected its social safety nets, while making it easier for the most successful to sit atop the pyramid of inequality… All measures of social epidemiology are worsening in the USA. Of Western nations, America has the greatest income inequality (40% of the wealth is controlled by 1%,) and the greatest discrepancy between expenditures on health care (#1 in the world) and life expectancy (#29 as of 2003.)”

Suggested reading:
“The Creature From Jekyll Island” by G. Edward Griffin; American Media, 1994.
“No Ordinary Time: Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt,” Doris K. Goodwin; Simon &
Schuster 1994.
“Politics of Fortune” by Jeffrey E. Garten; Harvard Business School Press, 2002.
“Wealth and Democracy,” by Kevin Phillips; Bradway Books, 2002.
“The Soul of Capitalism,” by William Greider; Simon & Schuster, 2003.
“Team of Rivals: the political genius of Abraham Lincoln,” Doris K. Goodwin; Simon &
Schuster. 2005.
“The Shock Doctrine,” by Naomi Klein; Metropolitan Books, 2007.
“Free Lunch: how the wealthiest Americans enrich themselves at government expense
(and stick you with the bill,)” by David C. Johnston; Penguin Group, 2007.
“Unequal Democracy: the political economy of the new gilded age,” by Larry M. Bartels;
Princeton University Press, 2008.
“Fleeced,” by D. Morris and E. McGann; HarperCollins, 2008.

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