February 13, 2016

HMM: Disparity In Lifespans Of The Rich And Poor Is Growing. There used to be a big disparity between the lifespans of the rich and poor based on things like the ability to get enough to eat and to stay warm in winter. Now, however, it seems to be because the poor have more bad habits: “In recent decades, smoking, the single biggest cause of preventable death, has helped drive the disparity, said Andrew Fenelon, a researcher at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As the rich and educated began to drop the habit, its deadly effects fell increasingly on poorer, uneducated people. Mr. Fenelon has calculated that smoking accounted for a third to a fifth of the gap in life expectancy between men with college degrees and men with only high school degrees. For women it was as much as a quarter. . . . More recently, the prescription drug epidemic has ravaged poor white communities, a problem that experts said would most likely exacerbate the trend of widening disparities. Limited access to health care accounts for surprisingly few premature deaths in America, researchers have found.”

Hypothesis: Giving the poor more money wouldn’t solve this problem, but would make it worse by subsidizing smoking, overeating, and substance abuse. The rich live longer because the habits that, on average, help them to be rich — self-discipline, etc. — also help them stay healthier. In other words, it’s another case of Reynolds’ Law.

Suggestion: Want people to live longer and be healthier? Make them work. Holding a job helps inhibit self-destructive behavior. The problem is, this approach offers insufficient opportunities for graft, or social fiddling.

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