The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

American Suicide Numbers Dropped Last Year

So, we kept being told Covid was causing increased suicides and it turned out not to be true.

I suspect this means is that American bosses are so shitty that a pandemic combined with massive economic problems is preferable to working with them in close quarters.

One of the great problems with “capitalism” is that businesses break people and aren’t stuck with having to clean up the mess they made. This is particularly noticeable, lately, at Amazon, who, in at least one case, kept an ambulance outside its warehouse because it knew enough workers would collapse and need it. Or who schedules its delivery drivers so tightly they shit in bags and piss in bottles and get UTIs.

Walmart built its business on underpaying workers and sending them to get government benefits; meaning, it wasn’t actually paying for the cost of its labor. By doing so, it wiped out businesses who did pay the cost of their labor.

Capitalism, for most of its history, has required not paying either cost of its labor practices (the human damage it does) or the cost of the resources it is permanently destroying (most recently, we are on track to kill about 50 percent of all known living species, which have both monetary and non-monetary value).

A system which throws off that much damage is obviously deranged and its “gains” are obviously unsustainable. Humanity has a limited set of resources off of which it has to live (including an ecosphere) and no, “technology” cannot replace them all. We don’t even understand the interactions of a properly functioning ecology enough to create a simple one in a biosphere; we can’t fix, or heal, what we break, any more than companies who compel employees to suicide can bring them back.

None of this is particularly necessary. Our problem is that we are STUPID. Capitalism has obvious problems that we refuse to acknowledge or deal with. We need a new way of managing our economy, one which also manages ecology and resources like, oh, THE Amazon.

This is not going to be possible if we base economic decision-making on supply and demand as we currently understand them. Nor is it going to be possible with the version of democracy or one-party states through which we have been running our society. (Nor is green fascism a solution, since fascism bottlenecks decision making.)

Money, based on debt, of which our society runs huge chunks around for almost all of our history, will also have to be completely re-thought because money has a strong tendency to reward people who abuse at scale, and always has.

None of this is impossible, though we’ve left it too late, so we’re going to eat the bitter fruits of our actions. I suggest, among other things, working to be sure that those with the most power, rather than using that power (money is power) to avoid the consequences of their actions, are forced to gorge on what they have done.

Letting bygones be bygones is a very large mistake when the bygone is multi-species genocide.

More on the rest, later.

All the content here is free, but subscriptions and donations do help, a lot.


Only Zero Covid Worked and Everyone Knows It


Open Thread


  1. jo6pac

    That’s a good thing but these crazy ass killing of small to large groups people is off the the edge of the said cliff. Very Sad.

  2. Eric Anderson

    “One of the great problems with ‘capitalism’ is that businesses break people and aren’t stuck with having to clean up the mess they made. ”

    Aagin, capitalism could not exist w/o the ability of the elite to ignore negative externalities. The entire racket is based on an accounting trick. Price in the negative externalities and the profit margin disappears.

    But, you have to have a mind to ‘see’ the negative externalities. We’ve been so indoctrinated by capitalist propaganda that we just assume “that’s the way things are.”


  3. Larry Y

    What’s the numbers on overdose deaths?

    I suspect some of them is due to overburdened health systems, including people not willing to go hospitals.

  4. OTOH, from “Youth Depression, Suicide Increasing During Pandemic Response”:

    “Youth despair amid lockdowns and related public health orders appears to be worsening. While US aggregate suicide data for 2020 won’t be available for a couple of years, due to reporting lags, state and county level data reveal dismal trends. In Pima County, Arizona suicides were up 67 percent in 2020 compared to the previous year for children ages 12 to 17, and statewide childhood suicides had also increased since 2019. West Virginia has seen a spike in student suicide attempts during the pandemic. Parts of Wisconsin reported skyrocketing suicide rates among young people in 2020, while hospitals in Texas and North Carolina are seeing more young suicidal patients.

    CDC data show a 24 percent increase in emergency room mental health visits for children ages 5 to 11, compared to 2019. Among adolescents ages 12 to 17, that increase is 31 percent. Last summer, the CDC reported that one in four young adults had contemplated suicide in the previous month.”

    A serious cost/benefit analysis of closing the schools for so long should certainly factor in teen suicide….

  5. Also, “While US aggregate suicide data for 2020 won’t be available for a couple of years, due to reporting lags, state and county level data reveal dismal trends.” suggests your quoted figure will be revised, upwards, but I have no idea what a typical final revision amounts to. This would be worth it, to society, to estimate. But, if it’s as bad (at least for teens) as my quote suggests, I’d be leery of relying on just a medical journal, which hasn’t been dissected by open minded independent parties.

    We saw with the suppression of hydroxychloroquine via garbage articles based on garbage (surgisphere) data, published in prestige {cough}{cough} medical journals (like Lancet), how far the corruption which supports a hidden agenda can go.

    There was a damning quote by an insider about the pressure to publish the garbage hydroxychloroquine study, viz., where it came from, but I don’t want to go looking for it.

  6. Willy

    As far as capitalism at the personal level goes, it’s time for another personal anecdote.

    I have an in-law of modestly above average intelligence who squeaked into osteopath school (the lesser doctors) with the help of connections, then got hired for a lifetime job with one medium sized clinic chain with the help of connections, then made partner with the help of connections, then helped sell the place for a big payoff along with his connections. That clinic was founded by a few honest docs under the banner of great service for reasonable prices. A century later, it’s completed its morphing into just another institutionalized wreck with beautiful offices inside a shitty multinational organization where the reviews contain much bitching from longtime customer-patients wondering what the hell happened.

    As one of the bitching reviewers, I put in my own 2¢ and quoted Milton Friedman. At my nephews wedding I made it clear that I was rudely ignoring my former doctor, the clinics CFO (who I know) and my in-laws’ other connections who were in attendance. I had moved to another clinic which had eventually itself became rife with overcharging, corruptions, and other greed scandals. I also made it clear at a family dinner that I don’t have things like doctors or auto mechanics anymore, because after many attempts at reasonable service I just don’t trust them anymore. I’d rather do those things myself than pay for ridiculously overpriced incompetency.

    I’m guessing that my in-law waits until I’m not present and makes some kind of slam about my character (or whatever works for him), while rolling his eyes and hoping that the defense mechanisms of his audience will do the rest. But in private mano-a-mano, other individuals tend to agree with me. Unchecked greed is not good. BIL knows what’s going on, what he’s a part of, and has clearly rationalized “the way things are” to his satisfaction.

    I’m stymied to think of another way to get back at that part of “the system”, let alone trying to help reform it.

  7. Ian Welsh

    The majority of abuse of children is by their own parents. If there is a “cost” of shutting down schools, it is sending those with bad parents home at the same time as their parents are home and also under stress.

  8. Hugh

    Eric’s right. People, like the environment, are an externality in capitalism.

  9. ocop

    Per another source I dont recall (ZH, NC?) The “Unintentional Injury” category is inclusive of overdose deaths and it’s increase (+19,000) to the explicit suide category’s decrease (-3,000) flips that logic on its head depending on the perspective. ODs are not necessarily suicides but I’d include them in “deaths of despair” alongside suicides. So suicide may be down but “despair” is up, way up.

  10. Hugh

    I decided to look up the official statistics on deaths in the US, and all I have to say is, what a mess. Most of it seems to be held at the CDC. There is one site called CDC Wonder that has the data and numbers Ian lists above, but only goes through 2019. And it is overly complicated and unintuitive. If you’re looking for similar data for 2020, all I have to say is good luck.

  11. Mark Pontin

    @ Ian –

    Another good post. You’re on a roll.

  12. StewartM

    A modest suggestion for capitalism (and something to drive us away from it).

    Instead of fining firms for bad behaviors (harm to their workers, their customers, their communities, the whole world) and even beyond criminalizing and jailing CEOs and board members (which of course should be done), do away with the immunity that stockholders hold. If criminal or egregious civil wrongdoing is found, make the top 20 % of of shareholders (often enough to control a firm) at-risk for damages and also criminal penalties, committed during the tenure of said offenses when they were in the top 20 % group (IOW, a top investor dumping their stock when an investigation starts won’t save them). If that 20 % includes a holding company (say, a hedge fund or private equity firm) then *that* 20 % of stockholders are similarly at risk.

    In my experience, Friedman capitalism over the past 50 years has been a game where CEOs and boards are pressured to deliver gains to the stockholders at the expense of all other stakeholders (workers/customers/communities/environment, etc). Ok, then make them responsible for the damage that has resulted from their demands for expectations of profit that are both generally unreasonable and unsubstainable. And also give them an out to get legal immunity–which would be to transfer the corporation into a cooperative, with the workers electing the leadership on the basis of one person, one vote, and they just become passive investors. As passive investors, no more could they buy up companies, split up companies, loot companies for short term profit, or take over companies.

    This would just make the big investors like small stockholders today. Small investors have very little control over the companies that they hold investments in. I’d also wager the reason that capitalism functions the way it does (as per Piketty) with returns to investors outstripping wages, is merely because of this power dynamics—workers can’t replace the leadership of a firm, but stockholders can. Reverse that power dynamics and you’d largely eliminate damaging layoffs, stupid “rank and yank” personnel evaluations (which are form of workforce Stalinism as they are geared to keep the workers in constant fear for their jobs) and workers would get at least inflation-adjusted wage hikes in normal/good times while investors get the scraps. I’d also wager that since workers have a much longer-term focus (they want their jobs to be around 10, 15, 20 years from now) firms would spend more on R&D and infrastructure than they do now. In short, a better economy all around would result.

  13. Plague Species

    Reverse that power dynamics and you’d largely eliminate damaging layoffs, stupid “rank and yank” personnel evaluations (which are form of workforce Stalinism as they are geared to keep the workers in constant fear for their jobs) and workers would get at least inflation-adjusted wage hikes in normal/good times while investors get the scraps. I’d also wager that since workers have a much longer-term focus (they want their jobs to be around 10, 15, 20 years from now) firms would spend more on R&D and infrastructure than they do now. In short, a better economy all around would result.

    This sounds great in the abstract. Nice and tidy. But let’s apply it realistically. Let’s say the employee owned and governed company is a behemoth cigarette manufacturer or a company like Monsanto. What then? Do we really want to support this philosophy for companies and industries that deliver such substantial harm?

    My point is, it’s not as simple as you make it out to be. There are competing interests in play. Scarce resources and and environmental destruction are at odds with jobs, well paying or not, in an industrialized economy. How do you/we reconcile this? Can it be effectively reconciled?

  14. bruce wilder

    domination in hierarchical societies made for a lot of misery since hierarchical polities were invented in (when?) the late Neolithic. what has made “capitalism”, per se, planet-threatening was the combination of fossil fuels and bureaucracy, which arrived in its full complement around 1880 (Karl Marx, prophet against capitalism, died in 1883).

    bureaucracy allowed humans to organize a division of labor at global scale and with the application of scientific knowledge qua technology. i have seen the term, ultrasocialty, applied to the post-1880 organization of political economy and the societies/polities that resulted — basically the idea is that we have thru the evolution of political/technological culture chanced upon a combination that makes us into primate ants. instead of the small troops or hunter-gather bands loosely organized into clans or tribes spread over mostly sparsely populated geography, we have become a global proto-organism, in desperate need of a social consciousness to govern its own growth before we poison the global petri dish so thoroughly as to kill ourselves. (Ooops, too late! ??)

  15. Hugh

    Capitalism is based on a series of fictions or put more bluntly lies. The means of production are supposed to be kept private. Profit is supposed to be balanced by competition which keeps everything honest. The social good is just supposed to magically result from this, The reality is that capital accumulation equates to the accumulation of profits equates to the accumulation of power. and power allows competition to be redefined out of existence. And the social good? It becomes whatever power says it is or is forgotten altogether.

    Where we are now is in a later stage of capitalism where the production of things has been superseded by the production of money –in our financialized economy. Those with money can produce money. And money is power. The rest of us, society, are left out.

    This isn’t sustainable. The cracks are everywhere and turning into fissures. The “concomitant damage” isn’t just issues like climate change. It’s us.

  16. Plague Species

    Hugh, my neighbor is a CDC statistician. He fortunately gets to work from home and has been for the past year. My wife and I encountered him and his wife out for a walk several weeks prior. Actually, they quite literally hunted us down. I’m convinced the wife works for the DHS and is keeping tabs on everyone in the neighborhood. They are ridiculously nosy about everyone else’s business. They’re always inquiring whether or not I work and what I do and where I’m working. I just tell them I cook and sell meth and leave it at that.

    Any way, I asked him what projects he was working on at the moment and he indicated they were running an analysis on the long term efficacy of the vaccines on the elderly. I asked him what the preliminary research was showing thus far. He said the vaccines are effective but from what they were seeing not as effective as they were reported to be in Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the trials, at least not on the elderly. I have yet to see this in the news.

    And yet, America is proceeding as though the vaccines are the end of it all and it’s back to the normal insanity that was American society before the pandemic versus the insanity that has been American society during the pandemic. It seems all America knows is insane and insanity. But hey, at least we’re no Myanmar, right? I think that’s the purpose of covering what’s going on in Myanmar — to make us appear normal in comparison when we are anything but.

  17. edmondo

    Hugh, Plague Species

    The post was about the decline in suicides during the pandemic. Any chance you two guys can jump in and do your part?

  18. Plague Species

    Let me guess, edmondo is a cigarette smoker and he’s a yuge Monsanto fan, maybe even an employee.

    Write your Congress Critters edmondo and lobby for them to legalize euthanasia and euthanasia drugs rather than typing on the internets. While you’re at it, make sure you don’t uncheck the box for monthly donations to McDonald Trump lest you be considered a woke defector.

  19. Joan

    This does bring up the question of how accurately deaths are labeled as suicides. The only suicide I was close with did so with his medication, so it was listed as an overdose (maybe even accidental) but the coroner or someone privately informed the family and close friends that the amounts in his system were huge and deliberate. We were asked by the family to keep that quiet, though.

    A friend’s brother took his life during the first lock-down in the US last year but I don’t know how it was listed.

    I can certainly vouch for how crazy modern life is, and provided your family or roommates aren’t nuts and you’re not stuck at home with them, a reprieve from the day-to-day is great as long as you can pay rent.

    My home life growing up was so stressful that by the time I became a legal adult my sole purpose in life was to “retire.” Maybe not the best word for it, but to get enough money that I can extract myself from the modern rat race as much as possible, even if I’m relatively poor as a result.

  20. js

    If suicide actually did fall, well the poverty rate itself fell from pre-pandemic times in the spring, of course it eventually went back up. But for awhile less people had reason to despair about being poor than do in normal times.

    But if suicide is social, people were not very social as they were isolating in the pandemic, they were mostly at least partial hermits. Work is the least chosen social activity in which one has the least control of all of course, but maybe a lot of people’s other relationships (that they don’t live with as contact increased there) are a source of suicide sometimes too. This doesn’t mean isolation is psychologically helpful for most people, but there is a difference between depression and suicide.

  21. Hugh

    Cause of death depends. Unless there is some gross trauma which destroys a body, like a bomb or a building falls on you, almost everyone dies because their heart stops and brain activity ceases. But then you have to distinguish between the immediate and underlying causes. In the list above, for example, Alzheimer’s disease is listed as the 7th leading cause of death. But no one dies of Alzheimer’s. They may die of an upper respiratory infection, the immediate cause, with Alzheimer’s being the underlying cause. That is if they didn’t have Alzheimer’s they probably never would have gotten the infection that killed them. Suicide adds another layer to the causality question because intentions come into the equation. Did the person mean to kill themselves? Outside of crime dramas and mystery novels, if someone leaves a suicide note, they killed themselves. After that, there has to be some pretty clear evidence that someone meant to kill themselves: previous attempts, history of depression, suicidal ideation, etc.

  22. bruce wilder

    I wonder where these statistics come from, exactly. I do not know. I have seen death certificates for people I have seen die, and the “cause of death” written there does not necessarily accord with common sense of what causes death.

  23. Hugh

    The numbers listed above are the same as those at the CDC Wonder site which says:
    “The Underlying Cause of Death database contains mortality and population counts for all U.S. counties. Data are based on death certificates for U.S. residents. Each death certificate identifies a single underlying cause of death and demographic data.”

  24. bruce wilder

    Are causes of death in the table meant to be read as mutually exclusive, so that the numbers for each leading cause add to the total?

    If so, the COVID-19 deaths as a bloc are remarkable for having made no discernible dent in death rates for cancer, heart disease, diabetes or stroke. Death rates for flu and pneumonia held up well in a year that skipped the annual flu epidemic entirely.

    If suicide is down a bit, “unintentional injury” is up!

  25. Hugh

    The CDC determines a single underlying cause that led to the death. So the categories ae mutually exclusive. The CDC currently uses for those categories the 10th revision of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems or ICD-10, which comes from the WHO. There is an ICD-11 which will officially come out Jan. 1, 2022.

  26. Plague Species

    Webb was found dead in his Carmichael home on December 10, 2004, with two gunshot wounds to the head. His death was ruled a suicide by the Sacramento County coroner’s office.

  27. Plague Species

    I do wonder, in how many of my parallel lives in the infinite number of parallel universes that exist, do I commit suicide? Is the number infinite also? Will this one, the one I’m currently conscious of, this parallel life in this parallel universe, end in suicide? Edmondo certainly hopes so and the sooner the better. If it does, will it be counted in the statistics as a suicide? If the CIA murders me it will be. Does it even matter, fractally speaking?

  28. Plague Species

    So, everyone clamoring to get back to normal is really a clamoring to rehabilitate lagging suicide statistics. If the pandemic endures and becomes endemic, we can have our death cake and eat it too — higher suicides once again and 500,000 dead a year from COVFEFE-45. A Win-Win. Yey!!

  29. Hart Liss

    Besides the costs of avoiding paying full wages, there’s the cost of ongoing environmental harm including climate change.
    As for full wages, there’s of course the post-2008 financial collapse trend of reducing full-time jobs to fewer than 35-40 hours a week and replacement of actual full time employment with part time jobs and independent contractor/gig work.
    In turn, that’s why the fight for $15 is no longer the hill to die on. Dunno that $450-600/week is worth fighting for. It’s NOT a living wage. Time for a true living wage, and one indexed to inflation.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén