News & Politics

Austerity Kills: How Harsh Budget Cuts Increase Suicide, Infant Mortality, HIV Infections

From Greece to the U.S., austerity has deadly consequences.

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Austerity doesn’t just hurt economies--it contributes to rising suicide rates, infant mortality and H.I.V. infections. That’s the message of a New York Times Op-Ed written by David Stuckler and  Sanjay Basu, authors of a new book titled The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills.

“Fiscal policy, it turns out, can be a matter of life or death,” the authors of the Op-Ed write.

Greece is the paradigmatic case. The country's budget for health care has been cut dramatically since 2008, when the country implemented austerity measures to meet the requirements of the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank. Now, hospital admissions have risen since Greeks have avoided routine doctor visits because of long wait times and the increasing cost of drugs. Infant mortality has risen by 40 percent. The rate of HIV infections have doubled due to rising intravenous drug use.

Greece’s troubles shouldn’t have come as a surprise, though. Harsh austerity measures had been tried following the collapse of the Soviet Union in Russia, Kazakhstan, Estonia and Latvia. It led to “ rises in suicides, heart attacks and alcohol-related deaths.”

And then there’s the current economic situation in the U.S., which is not as bad as Greece--though that’s a low bar. “In the United States, the suicide rate, which had slowly risen since 2000, jumped during and after the 2007-9 recession. In a new book, we estimate that 4,750 ‘excess’ suicides — that is, deaths above what pre-existing trends would predict — occurred from 2007 to 2010,” the authors write. Suicide rates in the U.S. have gotten more attention recently with the revelation that suicide among middle-aged Americans is rising. The economic crisis has certainly played a role in that rise.

The authors of the Times Op-Ed warn the U.S. situation could get worse. The sequester will cut nutrition subsidies and public housing budgets--a recipe for disaster.

But there are immediate solutions to the growing and deadly cost of austerity. First, the authors write, austerity should be halted. Second, unemployment should be treated like a pandemic and money should be invested to stop its spread. Third, governments should expand public health when economies are cratering.

The authors conclude by writing: “Austerity — severe, immediate, indiscriminate cuts to social and health spending — is not only self-defeating, but fatal.”


Alex Kane is former World editor at AlterNet. His work has appeared in Mondoweiss, Salon, VICE, the Los Angeles Review of Books and more. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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