Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Give me liberty or death – or both?

A recent study has found a surprising spike of mortality/death rates among white middle-aged white Americans. This trend (which apparently does not affect those with college degrees) is not observed among other demographic groups or in other rich countries. The researchers attribute the surprising loss of human life they uncovered mostly to rising suicide rates and abuse of alcohol and drugs. Among these, heroin and prescription painkillers have been particularly destructive. Substance abuse, however, is generally increased under conditions of chronic stress, and drugs have become more accessible as their street price has dropped, so market forces over the last few years may have a role, too. Of course, all this is very sad news. Curiously, conservative curmudgeon Edmund Burke once had some relevant premonitions. Reflecting on the utopian project of the French revolutionaries, he sounded a cautionary note: “The effect of liberty to individuals is, that they may do what they please: we ought to see what it will please them to do, before we risk congratulations, which may soon be turned into complaints.”