Diverging life expectancy: USA vs Western Europe

The USA has many of the world’s finest educational institutions. It is home to the world’s largest number of Noble Prize winners in different fields (400). Such intellectual capacity is paradoxically juxtaposed with the fact that the US seeks to remain as the world’s sole superpower by continuing to flex its military might. It is aggressively aiming to contain Russia and China in order to retain its numero uno status in international affairs. Yet, in one fundamental respect the United States is not a nation worthy of emulation.

Take, for example, the record of the USA on a basic health indicator, namely, life expectancy at birth. Indeed, this is regarded as such a pivotal measure of the well-being of nations that the UNDP has incorporated it as one of three components in its well known Human Development Index.

One can draw on the demographic data of the UN’s population division to compare long run trends (1950-2021) in life expectancy at birth (both sexes) in the United States relative to another rich region, Western Europe. There is a significant difference in life expectancy between the USA and Western Europe. In 2021, life expectancy in the USA was 77.2 years while in Western Europe it was 84.1 years. More importantly, life expectancy in the United States has fallen significantly in recent years. Indeed, life expectancy in 2021 in the USA was equal to the value prevailing in 2003! As one analyst notes: It is hard to communicate just how disquieting that trend is.


Source: https://www.un.org/development/desa/pd/

How can one explain this adverse trend in a basic health indicator in one of the world’s most affluent and powerful nations? Nobel Laureate Angus Deaton and his co-author Anne Case wrote, as Harvard economist Kenneth Rogoff has observed, an ‘extraordinarily’ influential paper in 2015 that can shed light on changes in life expectancy in the United States. In 2020, the authors published a major book on the topic.

Case and Deaton discovered ‘deaths of despair’ rising sharply in the 2000s among middle aged, non-Hispanic, white men. The term pertains to rising mortality due to suicide, drug overdose and alcoholic liver disease. Case and Deaton argued that this was primarily concentrated among white males without a college degree. Since then, Case and Deaton have done an update of their original thesis. They lament:

“Deaths of despair, morbidity, and emotional distress continue to rise in the United States, largely borne by those without a college degree—the majority of American adults—for many of whom the economy and society are no longer delivering.”

The authors have blamed the dysfunctional US healthcare system (‘pharma and its political enablers’) for this sorry phenomenon. As the authors suggest, the inadequacies of the US healthcare system is in turn a reflection of a deeper malaise in the US political system. Indeed, political polarization has played an important role in the inept handling of COVID-19 with the United States earning the unenviable distinction of having the largest number of COVID-19 related deaths (over million) in the world. The tragically large number of COVID-19 deaths have reinforced the declining trend in life expectancy in the United States.

Dealing with the ‘China threat’: an Asian perspective

I was invited by John Menadue (former CEO, Qantas), publisher of ‘Pearls and Irritation’, to submit a piece on dealing with the ‘China threat’ from an Asian perspective (P&I). For those of you who are unfamiliar with P&I, please become a regular reader if you are seeking a refreshing alternative to mainstream media, especially in Australia. The media landscape is dominated by Murdoch and his ilk and keen to push their right-wing, pro-American views. Demonizing China stems from that particular worldview. I seek to debunk it in the following post:

Bangladesh and IMF

I reflect on the background of the recent request by the Bangladesh government to seek financial assistance from the IMF. As other South Asian countries – Sri Lanka and Pakistan – have sought support from the Fund under economic duress, there is a tendency to regard Bangladesh as a country in distress. I argue that this is not the case. Bangladesh appears to have sought support from the IMF as a precautionary move to safeguard its sustained macroeconomic success, despite being saddled with deeply entrenched microeconomic inefficiencies. Whether Bangladesh will take this new engagement with the IMF as an opportunity to craft an inclusive reform agenda remains to be seen.

Read more here….https://blogs.griffith.edu.au/asiainsights/bangladesh-seeks-support-from-the-imf-why-and-what-lies-ahead/

Economic consequences of the Russia-Ukraine war: A grim outlook

My recent blog for the Griffith Asia Institute draws on the latest evaluations by IMF, World Bank, and UN agencies. Ukraine is destroyed as a viable nation. Russia is expected to suffer its steepest recession since the early 1990s before a rather modest recovery in 2024. The economic reverberations of the war will be felt in Europe and the rest of the world.

Has the international community really turned against Russia?

Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine that began in late February 2022 has unleashed a humanitarian catastrophe. Early indications were that the international community turned decisively against Russia. This was reflected in the UN-led condemnations of the Russian invasion of Ukraine upheld by the majority of UN member countries.

The US and its NATO allies instituted a severe sanctions regime against Russia making it, as Al Jazeera puts it, ‘the most sanctioned country in the world’. It seems that the ‘international community’ no longer displays the apparent unity that was reflected in supporting UN resolutions against Russia.

Here is a summing up of the state of play with respect to the participation of countries in the sanctions regime. According to a tally maintained by Al Jazeera, 45  countries are involved in the sanctions regime: all 27 EU countries, other European countries, three Asian countries (Japan, Korea, Taiwan), the UK, USA, Canada, and antipodean outposts of the West – Australia and New Zealand.

See the very instructive map attached below.

There are 193 UN member states. Hence, the countries that have sanctioned Russia represent about 23% of UN membership.

When virtually all of Africa, and Asia are included plus South America, these regions did not mimic the sanctions regime of the USA and Europe. These regions represent more than 79% of the world’s population. So, the vast majority of the rest of the world outside the ‘West’ and some non-Western allies have not turned against Russia. They seem to be following a policy of non-alignment. They do not wish to be part of a ‘us vs them’ framework and succumb to the vicious Russophobia (as well as conspicuous Sinophobia) that is masquerading as the collective foreign policy of the West. There is a self-serving narrative that the Western leaders are dedicated to upholding a ‘rules-based’ international order against a rogue, nuclear-armed state. This self-indulgent view is not enticing the rest of the world to join the anti-Russia bandwagon. It might well be the beginning of a genuinely multipolar world.

Map of the sanctions regime against Russia

Source: ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’