Free Markets, Free People

An Interesting But Apparently Obscure Health Care Fact

One of the questions constantly posed as the debate over health care insurance reform rages is, “if we have such a great health care system, why is our life expectancy lower than countries with socialized care?”

Well apparently it is our propensity to murder each other and die in car accidents which obscures the fact that with those factored out, we actually enjoy the longest life expectancy. James Joyner provides the numbers and a handy little chart.

But the bottom line is when you remove homicide and car crashes, we jump from number 15 with a life expectancy of 75.3 to number 1 with a life expectancy of 76.9.

So we must be doing something right in the medical field wouldn’t you say – certainly more so than anyone else if you want to hang your hat on life expectancy data that only focuses on what medicine can help.  Drive safely and avoid getting on the losing side of a gun fight and you can expect to be around for longer than any of those in the so-called “more advanced” countries.

And, as Dodd points out, there’s even a way to improve the homicide numbers:

Homicide, however, we could impact immediately and irrevocably right now simply by decriminalizing most (or all) currently illegal drugs. Remove the artificial, government-created scarcity, and the profits and incentive to engage in underworld violence that goes with it, and the homicide rate would fall significantly. More of our young men would survive to middle adulthood, hundreds of thousands of prisoners would be freed (or never created) to engage in productive work, and our life expectancy at birth would jump immediately and permanently. All without the government having to nationalize one-sixth of the economy and expropriate trillions more dollars from the private sector to pay for the hope that the outcome will be improved.

He’s right, of course – remove profit, remove incentive. The drug market today is a government created market. And it reacts to the distorted incentives prohibition introduces into such a market.

We know how to regulate such markets legally. We do it fairly successfully with alcohol. And we don’t have booze gangs shooting it out in turf wars or finding bunches of bodies from bootleg deals gone wrong.

Why we don’t consider reform in this area is beyond me. Life expectancy numbers would certainly see an increase if we did. So would our freedom and liberty numbers.


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29 Responses to An Interesting But Apparently Obscure Health Care Fact

  • Not to mention, it is not an apples to apples comparison.  Infants born too early, too short, and not weighing enough are not counted as “live births” in many nations ahead of us and therefore do not count toward their life expectancy calculations.   

  • But it brings up a paradox for the Left … the “nanny state” vs “decriminalization of drugs”
    When we now have laws that make the resale of children’s clothes, books and toys a crime, just how do you justify decriminalization of drugs ?   .. and what about the potential increase car fatalities with “stoned” drivers (like the lady who was stoned and drunk going the wrong way on the freeway killing 8) ?
    On the other hand, I have run into Obama supporters who believe that if Obama wins a second term, there will be a massive change in federal drug laws.

  • Speaking of drugs  …  “Yes We Can-nabis” .. brings a whole new meaning to “puff piece”

  • I get the pot thing, but are we really advocating making heroin and cocaine legal here? There is a significant difference between alcohol and drugs like heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine. Alcohol can, in fact, be used socially and in moderation. The drugs mentioned previously cannot. They are addicting from the get-go, and their effects on families are instantly devastating. There simply is no recreational methamphetamine user.

    I’m all for as little government regulation as possible, but justifying letting loose on the drug market by using alcohol as a comparison is just intellectually dishonest.

  • A big factor in the motality rates, especially infant mortality, is reporting.  There are different methods for reporting infant motality, if the gestation period is less than 6 months.  In the US, we try to save everything that seems to live … in many countries, it’s a miscarriage, and not an infant death.

  • Why we don’t consider reform in this area is beyond me

    Simple. It’s not about saving lives. It’s about control.
    Erik – the issue I have with what you’re saying isn’t that drugs aren’t bad / detrimental / etc. It’s based on the fact that people do drugs regardless of their legality. How many people right now are thinking “God, I’d LOVE to shoot up some heroin and do a little meth, but it’s illegal so I won’t?”
    Yes, people confuse ‘legal’ for ‘moral’. Yes, legalization would make more of these drugs available, and there would be a minor increase from the get go, but I really don’t think that many people forgo hard drugs simply because of their legal status. With the money you save in the militarization of our police force, the jail space, court costs, enforcement, etc. you could provide for the addicts and run a pretty good PR campaign. And still have enough money left over to cover some health care.
    Now, tin foil hat time – it is my understanding that there are lobbyists for the prison system who benefit from increased incarceration. So, you’ll be battling them as well. </endTinFoil>

  • I’ve always suspected the life expectancy rates were skewed by non-healthcare risk factors.  I get so tired of disengenious argument.  I just want to punch everyone doing it.  But my hand would get so tired.

  • Nature abhors a vacuum and there is the “Law of Unintended Consequences” ?
    These drug gang members aren’t just going to take jobs at McDonalds.  Plus, with the cost incentive reduced, the market will really self regulate the price where the lower cost will produce less drugs on the market.  A lower price isn’t going to make them used more ?
    And what politician will not try to channel the money from the “war on drugs” to fixing the roof on some historical building ?  Available money won’t be available for long.  Moving even further back the “food chain”, the drug supplying countries and their drug cartels et al can expect some readjustment as well  … so this becomes a foreign policy issue as well.

    • All that you are saying MIGHT happen, but since we already KNOW that the present policy is a total f*cking failure, then I say the burden of proof is upon the people who don’t want some sort of change in our idiodic drug laws.

  • Robb- I can certainly appreciate the tenuous link between illegality and speculative lower rates of usage, but let’s play both sides: How many people have no idea where to buy heroin right now because it’s pushed far enough underground? How many people would experiment with cocaine if they could buy it in a store rather than having to travel to some undesirable location and buy it from guys just as likely to rob you and/or sell you powdered sugar? I would just hate to see us completely abandon a fairly significant obstacle by suddenly making it illegal.

    Why does no one consider just stepping down enforcement expenditures? You could have the laws on the books without enforcing them to the hilt. I don’t think you have to be so drastic as to start stocking the shelves of your local grocery store.

    As for the “prison lobby,” I’ve always heard this and never understood it. When I was a younger man, I was counsel for a State Secretary of Corrections. Prison overpopulation was always a huge thorn in his side. He always nearly ran afoul of prison overcrowding, ran close to overbudget all the time, and would have given anything to let lower level drug offenders out to relieve the stress. Why would he lobby to get more prison inmates? I have honestly never heard of such a thing. Now there are private prisons run by corporations. I can see that type of lobbying occurring, but I have yet to hear of that occurring directly.

    This post was too long. I should be put on probation myself.

    • Erik –
      “I would just hate to see us completely abandon a fairly significant obstacle by suddenly making it illegal.”
      I believe you meant to write ‘legal’, but the point is, if someone wants to do that to themselves, where do you get off telling them they can’t?  This has been discussed a thousand times and always takes away from the discussion at hand.  Do you think t is going to become socially acceptable overnight to shoot up heroin?  Right… I’m going over to my friends for dinner, just gotta get my smack on in their living room before we sit down to eat.  Look, drinking is legal, but I can tell you 9 times out of 10, it is inapprpriate for me to get ‘trashed’.  I can legally drink as much as I want, but my wife, kids, and friends have a limit on what they will put up with.

      • Fair correction on “illegal” v. legal. Thank you.

        Again, the alcohol comparison is ridiculous. There is no “appropriate” use for these drugs. The “do what you want” idea is great, right up until it infringes upon someone else. Unfortunately, that is more often that not a person’s children.

        Your argument that the social stigma associated with drug use will prevent drug use from becoming common is suspect. If that were the case, why isn’t it working now? Why do we have so many seemingly mainstream addicts? I cannot conclude that some form of societal peer pressure will kick in and succeed where the laws do not. If that were the case, one would think we wouldn’t need 500,000 “stay off drugs” campaigns in our schools. Not only that, but the manufactured attempt to generate peer pressure apparently doesn’t work!

        • These are all fair, cogent, and reasonable arguments.
          The trick is, as always, to find a healthy balance of liberty and responsibility.  An incredibly difficult balancing act in a society as large and diverse as ours.
          We already have an ample supply of liberties that if abused, cause a detriment to our society.  Some we tolerate for their necessity, some we tolerate out of a simple desire of individual liberty.  We tolerate alcohol, as destructive as it may be, not only because alcohol tends to be a mainly social drug and if taken in moderation, is not detrimental and is even arguably healthy.  We tolerate the dangerous act of driving large hunks of heavy metal at high speeds because we have a necessity to move persons, goods and services to locations sometimes at great distances.  We tolerate the possession of lethal firearms out of a desire of individual liberty.  After all, your chances of getting murdered by yours or someone elses firearms are much greater than your necessity to defend yourself or having the need to hunt for your supper.*  We tolerate the sale and consumption of foodstuffs high in fat and sugar because… well… dammit… I want my goddamn Snickers bar and I’ll be damned if some nitwit pol says I can’t.
          These are the fine balances we make as a society between freedom and responsibility.
          Some liberties are detrimental, most are advantageous.  But there will never be an equal balance.
          And I have to believe that market forces – along with reasonable amount of government regulation – will help dictate these balances to a tolerable level.  Just because it may be legal, may not necessarily mean that it will become commonplace or even socially acceptable.
          If, for example, heroin was made legal today, would you find it at the local Safeway next to the cold beer?  Most likely not.  Pornography is largely legal, yet we don’t see videos of “MILF’s Like It Sloppy” next to Pixar’s “Ratatouile” at the neighborhood Blockbuster.  Pornography, as easy as it is to get today, remains seedy and socially unacceptable.
          So most likely, we wouldn’t see smack for sale next to a sixer of BudLight.  We, as a society, wouldn’t tolerate it.  The local Safeway would go out of business because families wouldn’t shop there.  It would remain, as pornography does, a seedy underground commerce.
          Now I admit, that my desires for personal liberty for all who might want to destroy themselves, as long as said activities don’t affect anyone else, may render me myopic and naive.  But I can’t help but think of the same arguments of a spiraling, descending society being made by the temperance movement of yesteryear and today.
          They were wrong.  We’re just fine.
          Yes, alcohol has its abusers and their negative affect on society.  But the liberty and commerce afforded far outweigh the negative balance.  The same might be said about heroin, cocaine, etc.
          It is a step in the right direction, that most reasonable people believe that the decriminalization of marijuana would not be a negative force, but even possibly a positive force pushing the balance of liberty v. responsibility.
          I’m not hostile to considerations that the decriminalization of so-called hard drugs like heroin and cocaine would provide far more negative weight than positive.
          Again, I’m admitting that I might just be naive on the subject.
          Truth be told, I think I picked the wrong day to stop sniffing glue.
          * Yes, I understand the 2nd ammendment and how it is about protecting oneself agains all enemies, foriegn and domestic.  I’m using firearms as it pertains to liberty v. responsibility. I don’t want to make it about that… trust me, as an owner of 8 firearms, I’m with you… but maybe not a cabin in the woods just yet. 😉

          • Your argument is well done, and you win the award for comment of the day with this one:

            “MILF’s Like It Sloppy”

            Well played.

          • *Clapping hands*
            Wow Pouge… MILFs, the 2nd amendment, liberty, AND heroin in the same lucid post???  Bravo!  Bravo I say!

          • “MILF’s Like It Sloppy”
            Well played.
            Well, I only speak about the facts.
            MILF”s, do indeed, like it sloppy.  LOL.
            Cheers, mate.  🙂

          • Bravo!  Bravo I say!
            Thanks, me again.
            I have my moments.  🙂
            So do others here.  I can think of a certain commenter who does an excellent job of parody about some lobster sauce stained douchebag.
            IOW, right back atcha’ me again. 😛

  • I think there’s a big difference between alcohol and some of these other drugs. It takes years for most people to drink themselves to death, or even out on the streets. In fact, if it wasn’t for drunk driving, many alcoholics could probably function in society for decades. Some of the hard drugs for many people aren’t that slow.

    Which means that no doctor or store for that matter will give a person more drugs than can be taken without an impact to health. They’d be sued into non-existence if they did. So basically there will be a cap on the amount of drugs you will be able to get. First this will be driven by the civil courts, later I’m sure there would be some mix of federal guidelines.

    And then we’re back to illegal drugs. Some people will sell sex with their children for money for drugs. Nobody is going to tell them that they can’t exceed their ‘healthy allotment’. In fact, I would suspect the ‘healthy allotment’ would be pretty low and especially after persistent use, these levels just won’t cut it for even recreational users.

    So we’re back to an illegal market. A market that can better hide than before and a larger customer base.

    Otherwise the plan needs to be
    1) Kill all the trial lawyers
    2) decriminalize drugs.

  • MILF”s, do indeed, like it sloppy.  LOL.

    You need to hand out with better MILFs (Unless you are including the Moro Islamic Liberation Federation and yes they do like it sloppy, beheadings and all )

  • “…hundreds of thousands of prisoners would be freed (or never created) to engage in productive work…”

    Riiight…because as everyone KNOWS, if it wasen’t for those pesky, illegal drugs available to sell for a profit, all those budding choir boys in prison would be wearing a suit and doing a productive 9-5 job! Nosirree…the thought of commiting a [gasp] CRIME would never, ever enter their law-abiding heads.

    Thank you – it has been a rough week so far and that 10 minutes of hysterical laughter does wonders for the soul, lemme tell ya…

    • Yeah, uh Bob, most folks know that the prisoners that are being talked about are users who have been imprisoned under mandatory sentencing laws and far outnumber the type you’re talking about. But I’m glad you got a laugh, whether or not you understood the point or not.

      • To be fair, nearly every state in the union now has a mandatory sentencing provision that requires a possession convict to fail at rehabilitation several times before serving a day of prison time. So the image of otherwise working people rolling a single joint and being shipped off to the big house isn’t quite right. I think the humor in the original post was in the idea that if we opened the prison gates to drug offenders, out would flow a ready, productive work force.

  • Heroin users can be very functional – work a full day come home and dose up. If it were as cheap as beer, it wouldn’t be much different from the hard worker who drinks a sixer a night.
    Note this is not form personal experience with heroin – needles scare me!

    • Hmmmm…Guns N’ Roses did play some bad-ass shows while smacked out of their minds. Maybe you’re on to something.

      But please note, you don’t need a needle to enjoy the smooth flavor of heroin. It’s fun for everyone!

  • @Harun, you mean someone like Sid Vicious?

  • USA life expectancy is not the highest even after taking homicide/road traffic out (which is ridiculous).
    OECD figures for 2006 shows a life expectancy in Japan at 82.4, and its above 80 in Australia, France, New Zealand, Norway, Spain and Sweden. And that’s before including homicide/road traffic accidents.

  • I drink whiskey and beer because I enjoy the taste, and I seldom drink enough to get intoxicated. What does heroin, etc. taste like and how much can you use without getting intoxicated?

  • Link, please, Oldsama.  Sounds like utter bullpuckey to me.