Recessions hurt, but austerity kills.
by financial elites that austerity economics is a prescription to
improve the lives of the masses, research contained in a newly published
book shows that the push for steep cuts in wages, social programs, and
public health programs is literally killing people throughout Europe and
The book—titled The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills
written by David Stuckler, an Oxford University political economist,
and Sanjay Basu, an epidemiologist at Stanford University—uses
historical case studies from around the globe and throughout history to
show "how government policy becomes a matter of life and death" during
deep or prolonged financial crises.
Discovering that the cure to the financial crisis of 2008 was in some
ways worse than the affliction, Stucklet and Basu argue that countries
"turned their recessions into veritable epidemics" by championing
austerity measures that ultimately "ruined or extinguished" thousands of
lives in series of "misguided" attempts to balance budgets, appease
financial markets, and bow to the economic elite.
"The harms we have found include HIV and malaria outbreaks, shortages
of essential medicines, lost healthcare access, and an avoidable
epidemic of alcohol abuse, depression and suicide," said Dr. Stuckler in
a statement. "Austerity is having a devastating effect."
As Reuters reports
the researchers say more than 10,000 suicides and up to a million
cases of depression have been diagnosed during what they call the "Great
Recession" and its accompanying austerity across Europe and North
In Greece, moves like cutting HIV prevention budgets have coincided
with rates of the AIDS-causing virus rising by more than 200 percent
since 2011 - driven in part by increasing drug abuse in the context of a
50 percent youth unemployment rate.
Greece also experienced its first malaria outbreak in decades following budget cuts to mosquito-spraying programs.
And more than five million Americans have lost access to healthcare
during the latest recession, they argue, while in Britain, some 10,000
families have been pushed into homelessness by the government's
As the authors explain in the introduction to their book, it is not
only the dire impacts of the policies they found troubling, but the
heartlessness of the policy-makers who so vigorously endorse them. They
We were shocked and concerned at the illogic of the austerity
advocates, and the hard data on its human and economic costs. We
realized the impact of the Great Recession went far beyond people losing
their homes and jobs. It was a full-scale assault on people's health.
At the heart of the argument was the question of what it means to be a
society, and what the appropriate role of government is in protecting
Compounding the problem, the authors conclude, is the fact that
alternative paths did exist, and continue to exist, but that nations
remain unwilling or unable to break free from the purveyors of
Citing examples from the historical and current record, Stuckler and
Basu show that many countries have weathered financial and other crises
by investing in public health and innovative social programs.
"Ultimately what we show is that worsening health is not an
inevitable consequence of economic recessions. It's a political choice,"
said Professor Basu.
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