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Austerity Kills: Crippling Economic Policies Causing Global Health Crisis

Economist David Stuckler and physician Sanjay Basu examine the health impacts of austerity across the globe in their new book.
 
 
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The following is reprinted from the Democracy Now!  interview, "Why Austerity Kills: From Greece to U.S., Crippling Economic Policies Causing Global Health Crisis. "

In their new book, "The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills," economist David Stuckler and physician Sanjay Basu examine the health impacts of austerity across the globe. The authors estimate there have been more than 10,000 additional suicides and up to a million extra cases of depression across Europe and the United States since governments started introducing austerity programs in the aftermath of the economic crisis. For example, in Greece, where spending on public health has been slashed by 40 percent, HIV rates have jumped 200 percent, and the country has seen its first malaria outbreak since the 1970s. An economist and public health specialist, Stuckler is a senior research leader at Oxford University. Dr. Basu is a physician and epidemiologist who teaches at Stanford University. "Had austerity been organized like a clinical trial, it would’ve been discontinued given evidence of its deadly side effects," Stuckler says. "There is an alternative choice that we found in the historical data and through the present recessions: When we place people and their health at the center of economic recovery, it can help get our economy back on track faster and yield lasting dividends to our society."

Amy Goodman: "Early last month, a triple suicide was reported in the seaside town of Civitanova Marche, Italy. A married couple, Anna Maria Sopranzi, who was 68, and Romeo Dionisi, [who was] 62, had been struggling to live on her monthly pension of around 500 euros [around $650 a month], and had fallen behind on rent.

"Because the Italian government’s austerity budget had raised the retirement age, Mr. Dionisi, a former construction worker, became one of Italy’s esodati (exiled ones)—older workers plunged into poverty without a safety net. On April 5, he and his wife left a note on a neighbor’s car asking for forgiveness, then hanged themselves in a storage closet at home. When Ms. Sopranzi’s brother, Giuseppe [Sopranzi, who was] 73, heard the news, he drowned himself in the Adriatic."

Those are the opening lines to a startling recent  article in The New York Times headlined "How Austerity Kills." The authors of the piece, David Stuckler and Dr. Sanjay Basu, have just published a new book looking at the health impacts of austerity across the globe. The authors estimate there have been more than 10,000 additional suicides and up to a million extra cases of depression across Europe and the United States since governments started introducing austerity programs in the aftermath of the economic crisis. In Greece, where spending on public health has been slashed by 40 percent, HIV rates have jumped 200 percent, and Greece has seen its first outbreak in malaria since the 1970s.

David Stuckler is an economist and public health specialist. He’s a senior research leader at Oxford University. Dr. Sanjay Basu is a physician and epidemiologist. He teaches at Stanford University. Together, they’ve written this new book, out today, called The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills—Recessions, Budget Battles, and the Politics of Life and Death.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! I’m glad you could both be together in one place, being at Stanford and being at Oxford. David, let’s begin with you. Lay out the thesis of this book.

David Stuckler: We’ve been studying how recessions affect people’s health over the past decade, looking at the Great Depression through the East Asian financial crisis, right through to the present Great Recession. And what we found is that recessions hurt. Unemployment, job loss, foreclosure, unpayable debt are risks to health. But what ultimately matters is how politicians respond. And when they make large cuts to social supports, social protections, they can turn recessions into severe epidemics.

 
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