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11.15  The long read:  The plastic backlash: what's behind our sudden rage – and will it make a difference? [the world wants to throw-up...]

11.15 Claws out: crab fishermen sue 30 oil firms over climate change [workers are waking-up...]

11.15 Trump administration to cut air pollution from heavy-duty trucks

11.14 Backed by Ocasio-Cortez, Youth Climate Activists Arrested in Pelosi's Office Demanding Democrats Embrace 'Green New Deal'

11.13 What would a smog-free city look like?

11.13 Global report highlights Australia’s renewables potential amid mixed signals for coal

11.13 Interior department whistleblower: Ryan Zinke hollowed out the agency

11.12  This Land is Your Land:  The Zinke effect: how the US interior department became a tool of industry [behaving ignorantly again...]

11.12 Planned Parenthood's new president warns of 'state of emergency' for women's health

11.11 Trump responds to worst fires in California’s history by threatening to withhold federal aid [behaving ignorantly again...]

11.11 Interior department sued for ‘secretive process’ in at-risk species assessment [behaving ignorantly again...]

11.11 Keystone XL pipeline: judge rules government 'jumped the gun' and orders halt [behaving ignorantly again...]

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11.17 'A Staggeringly Bad Idea': Outrage as Pelosi Pushes Tax Rule That Would 'Kneecap the Progressive Agenda' [Unfit to be Democrat leader]

11.17 Trump Is Starting to Panic

11.16 As 'Green New Deal' Demand Grows, Democrats Have Choice: Confront and Defeat Fossil Fuel Industry or Take Credit for 'Doomed' Planet [Two choices: Save life-on-Earth or help Republicans let it die?]

11.16 Trump’s latest interview shows a president who’s in way over his head

11.16 Why the political fight in Georgia is far from over

11.16 Florida judge sides with Democrats, giving thousands a second chance to fix their ballots

11.15 Democrats Won Big. Can They Go Bold, Too? [it's about suppressing the influence and leadership by Republican-like Democrats who counsel 'íncremental' (no) change, such as Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, Hillary Clinton, Chuck Shumer and Joe Biden]

11.15 Pentagon Officials Forced to Make Fewer Public Appearances to Avoid Provoking Trump [...by revealing Trump's huuuge ignorance]

11.15 REPUBLICANS USED A BILL ABOUT WOLVES TO AVOID A VOTE ON YEMEN WAR [if there are 'defense industry' profits to be made—including congress-critter insider-trading—and political 'donations' to be had, we mustn't stop killing innocent civilians!]

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11.16 Trump doesn’t want to punish Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi. His new sanctions prove it. [George W. Bush made a similar immoral decision for the same oily reasons after 9-11, protecting Saudi defense contracts while facilitating the slaughter of poorer Arab "terrorists" in the region.]

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11.17 Saudi crown prince's 'fit' delays UN resolution on war in Yemen

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11.17 Policies of China, Russia and Canada threaten 5C climate change, study finds [Climate catastrophe is increasingly likely without worldwide organization, funding and commitment to winning THE WAR AGAINST GLOBAL WARMING.]

11.17 CIA finds Saudi crown prince ordered Jamal Khashoggi killing – report

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11.14 'Appalling' Khashoggi audio shocked Saudi intelligence – Erdogan [Exposing a psychopath?]

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11.14 Mueller seeking more details on Nigel Farage, key Russia inquiry target says

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  How Inequality Kills

COMMENTARY:

How Inequality Kills

by Julian Edney
Digging through piles of data, John Lynch and his co-workers analyzed 282 US cities. They found if you add the ravages of poverty to the life-shortening effect of social inequality, the combination is “comparable to the combined loss of life from lung cancer, diabetes, motor vehicle crashes, HIV infections, suicides and homicides.”
Most of us don’t read the scientific health journals, so we’ve missed this news. Research has appeared in the United States and Britain, over the last ten years, saying more than any physical cause of death like cigarettes, obesity, accidents, alcohol or pollution, a more potent killer is the shape of the society we live in.

Most of this comes from epidemiologists and public health researchers. The articles, dry and overlooked, are gray with columns of statistics. The earliest ones, buried in the stacks at the university, show these scientists hardly believing their own findings. It was only because George Kaplan (1) and John Lynch (2) and their associates at the University of Michigan, for example, and Richard Wilkinson (3) at the University of Sussex all made discoveries pointing in the same odd direction that this topic wasn’t dismissed as a quirk.

We’ve always known poverty is correlated with poor health. But separately, if you measure the inequality of any society—its shape, hierarchical or egalitarian—and if you correlate that with infant mortality, or death from violence, or life expectancy, the correlation number jumps off the page.

Now a whole book of collected reports has been published, showing the same patterns (4). Whether researchers compare different countries, different cities or different states, steeply unequal societies show more breakdown. Violence is up, health is down, infant mortality is up, life expectancy is shorter—and this affects all levels of society. Egalitarian societies are simply healthier.

This is a raw point at the joint between science and politics. It is going ignored. Of course this is not the first time the media have ignored inconvenient facts from health statisticians. The discovery of real hunger in America, quietly admitted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture last year (5), should have lit up the political skies, but was skipped by the press. A very readable article by Robert Sapolsky in the glossy pages of the Scientific American last year (6) should likewise have liberal politicians climbing on the tables, because his article shows that social inequality kills. It is being virtually ignored.

We dismiss this research at our peril.

Look at any community, and its rich and its poor. If you figure how much money you’d have to take from the rich to give to the poor, and keep doing that until everybody was equal, that would be the community’s score on the Robin Hood Index (7, 8), an economic measure of social inequality. Bruce Kennedy and his colleagues (9) did that for each of the 50 states in America. (Turns out the states vary considerably, with Louisiana the most unequal, New Hampshire the most equal.) Next they compared the index with mortality rates. A clear correlation jumped out. By knowing the state’s degree of social inequality, you could accurately guess its mortality rate.

Inequality kills.

The impact of inequality ripples through behavioral and criminology data too. It seems nobody tried these correlations before.

And it’s powerful. Digging through piles of data, John Lynch and his co-workers analyzed 282 US cities. They found if you add the ravages of poverty to the life-shortening effect of social inequality, the combination is “comparable to the combined loss of life from lung cancer, diabetes, motor vehicle crashes, HIV infections, suicides and homicides” (10). Is this a fact because sick people fall to the bottom of society, causing deeper inequality? No; analysis shows the reverse. The path is from inequality to bad health.

Those are the health effects, but the impact of inequality ripples through behavioral and criminology data too. It seems nobody tried these correlations before.

In one study, income inequality correlated with all of the following: low birth weight, homicide, violent crime, work disability, expenditures for medical care and police protection, rates of smoking, unemployment rates, food stamps, and imprisonment.

In a third study, George Kaplan and his associates went through the archives and found income inequality correlated with all of the following: low birth weight, homicide, violent crime, work disability, expenditures for medical care and police protection, rates of smoking, unemployment rates, food stamps, and imprisonment (11). When Ching-Chi Hsieh and M.D. Pugh, both sociologists, sifted through 34 published research studies and conducted a meta-analysis, they found 97% of the correlations reported between social inequality and violent crime were positive (12).

Exactly why is inequality toxic? They’re still working on this one, but it looks like friendships and social networks are critical in getting through stressful times. Chronic stress can damage the circulation system, cause hormone imbalances, damage the immune system and affect the brain in ways that precipitate depression—this is true for both animals and humans. Some stresses are psychological, some interpersonal. In humans, hierarchy makes friendships difficult. We can think of friendship and hierarchy as inversely related. Egalitarian networks promote camaraderie and trust, but if it is constantly pushed in our faces that we are unequals, we feel more untrusting, alone, and vulnerable.

Among some animals, it appears the accumulating stresses of the pecking order are toxic. Researchers are saying the effects are akin to rapid ageing (13).

For humans, it’s not your actual dollar income, but the experience of feeling low on the community ladder that is tied to poor health. Regardless of the nation we live in, we compare ourselves to others around us. If we feel lower, inferior, it’s stressful.

One more new point. For humans, it’s not your actual dollar income, but the experience of feeling low on the community ladder that is tied to poor health. Regardless of the nation we live in, we compare ourselves to others around us. If we feel lower, inferior, it’s stressful. So for example, people living in Greece today earn about half what Americans earn, but their life expectancy is longer. America has very steep inequalities but Greece is a more egalitarian society (14).

All this points to one conclusion. Raising a nation’s total wealth is not going to improve average health unless inequality is also reduced (15).


Julian Edney teaches college and may be reached at julianedney@aol.com.

Notes:

1. Kaplan, G.A., E.R. Pamuck, J.W. Lynch, R.D. Cohen and J.L. Balfour, "Inequality in income and mortality in the United States: analysis of mortality and potential pathways." British Medical Journal 1996, 312, 999-1003.

2. Lynch, J.W., G.A. Kaplan, E.R. Pamuk, R.D.Cohen, K.E. Heck, J.L. Balfour, and I.H. Yen, "Income inequality and mortality in metropolitan areas of the United States. American Journal of Public Health 1998, 88, 1074-1080.

3. Wilkinson, R. Mind the gap. London: Widenfeld & Nicholson. 2000.

4. Kawachi, I., B.P. Kennedy and R.C.Wilkinson, The society and population health reader. New York: The New Press, 1999.

5. Nord, M., Andrtews, M., Carlson, S. Household Food Security in the United States, 2004. United States Department of Agriculture report ERS-ERR-11, October 2005.

6. Sapolsky, R. "Sick of poverty." Scientific American, 2005, 293, 92-99.

7. Atkinson, A.B. and Micklewright, J. Economic transformation in eastern Europe and the distribution of income. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

8. Kennedy, B.P., I. Kawachi, and D. Prothrow-Stith, "Income distribution and mortality: cross-sectional ecological study of the Robin Hood Index in the United States." British Medical Journal, 1996, 312, 1004-1007.

9. Ibid.

10. Lynch, J.W., G.A. Kaplan, E.R. Pamuk, R.D. Cohen, K.E. Heck, J.L. Balfour, and I.H. Yen, "Income inequality and mortality in metropolitan areas of the United States." American Journal of Public Health 1998, 88, 1074-1080.

11. Kaplan, G.A., E.R. Pamuck, J.W. Lynch, R.D. Cohen and J.L. Balfour, "Inequality in income and mortality in the United States: analysis of mortality and potential pathways." British Medical Journal 1996, 312, 999-1003.

12. Hseih, C-C., and M.D. Pugh. "Poverty, Income inequality and violent crime: a meta-analysis of recent aggregate data studies." Criminal Justice Review, 1993, 18, 182-202.

13. Wilkinson, R. Mind the gap. London: Widenfeld & Nicholson. 2000., p. 37.

14. Sapolsky, R. "Sick of poverty." Scientific American, 2005, 293, 92-99., p. 98.

15. Fiscella, K. and P. Franks. "Poverty or income inequality as a predictor of mortality: longitudinal cohort study." British Medical Journal, 1997, 314, 1724-1728.


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This story was published on March 30, 2006.

 

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