Free Market fallout: America's suicide rate approaching parity with Russia’s

Robert Bridge
Robert Bridge is an American writer and journalist based in Moscow, Russia. His articles have been featured in many publications, including Russia in Global Affairs, The Moscow Times, Lew Rockwell and Global Research. Bridge is the author of the book on corporate power, “Midnight in the American Empire”, which was released in 2013. email: robertvbridge@yahoo.com
© Gerardo Garcia
Old stereotypes die hard, and none more so than those involving Russia, where the population, as the Western media reports in a uniform voice, is disappearing under a black wave of alcoholism, drug abuse and suicide.

However, the reality will surprise a lot of people. As of April 2016, the Russian suicide rate actually dropped 7.2 percent as compared to the same period in 2015, putting the level at 15.4 per 100,000 citizens - the lowest level in 54 years.

Meanwhile, recent statistics are shining a disturbing light on the suicide situation in the United States, where Americans are silently suffering under a brutal winner-take-all economic system that takes no prisoners.

But first a look at the Russia's comeback story.

Russia rebounds

In his April 2005 State of the Nation address, Vladimir Putin famously described the collapse of the Soviet Union as the “greatest geopolitical disaster of the century”.

The West's chattering classes, never missing a chance to portray Russia as an aggressor, jumped on the comment as proof that the Kremlin was harboring deep-seated “imperial ambitions”.

However, a less cynical reading of Putin’s comment is that he was describing the challenges the Russian people faced in adjusting to the trauma of moving from a planned economic system to the dog-eat-dog world of free market capitalism.

Russian suicides hit its peak in the ultra-violent 90s – Russia’s version of Chicago Gangland 1920s - when the rate broke the record at 42 per 100,000 in 1995 (for some perspective, the suicide rate during the Great Depression was around 22 per 100,000).

Given the truly desperate situation the country found itself, it was understandable that the world had trouble shaking off the idea that Russia was destined for the graveyard of nations.

“The consensus wasn’t just that Russians killed themselves too frequently, but that this was both a worsening problem and that it was broadly reflective of the broken and corrupted state of society,” Mark Adomanis wrote in a recent Forbes article.

The key word here is ‘consensus,’ which Merriam-Webster defines as “an idea or opinion that is shared by all the people in a group.” In other words, ‘consensus’ can be just a polite way of saying ‘conformity,’ which the Western media wears like a straitjacket whenever the subject relates to Russia. Thus, it is no surprise the Western media failed – or simply was not allowed - to observe that a new trend was emerging regarding Russia's suicide rate, which has been dropping by an average of about 4.8 percent per year since the turn of the century.

The United States, meanwhile, has witnessed about a 1.5 percent annual increase.

“The reality… is that, over the past two decades, Russian and American suicide rates have converged,” Adomanis noted. “Rapidly,” he added.

In 1999, 10.5 of every 100,000 Americans committed suicide. In 2014, that number surged 24 percent to 13 out of every 100,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention; 42,773 deaths in the United States were attributed to suicide – a 30-year high and twice the number of Americans who died from homicide.

Suicide now ranks as the 10th leading cause of death among Americans.

Suicide by economic policy?

There are some telltale signs indicating that the spike in US suicides is directly linked to the yawning income chasm. As America’s super-rich gobbles up the lion’s share of the wealth pie, the once proud middle class has two choices: accept the ravages of a free market system on steroids, or ‘throw in the towel.’

Here is brief, grim appraisal as to how the average US family has fared in the wage war since 1970: “Fully 49 percent of U.S. aggregate income went to upper-income households in 2014, up from 29 percent in 1970. The share accruing to middle-income households was 43 percent in 2014, down substantially from 62 percent in 1970,” according to statistics from Pew Research.

“The 21st century has not been kind to average American families,” inequality.org concurred. “The net worth — assets minus debts — of most U.S. households fell between 2000 and 2011.”

Meanwhile, the wealth gains of by the golden 1 percent over the same period have been simply astonishing: “In 1982, the “poorest” American listed on the first annual Forbes magazine list of America’s richest 400 had a net worth of $80 million. The average member of that first list had a net worth of $230 million. In 2015, rich Americans needed net worth of $1.7 billion to enter the Forbes 400, and the average member held a net $5.8 billion, over 10 times the 1982 average after adjusting for inflation.

In a nutshell, the economic climate of the United States bears a striking resemblance to the robber baron days of the late 19th to early 20th centuries, minus the off-shored factories. And although the economy in Russia has also seen better days, suicide rates there are leveling off, not taking off.

US recession morphing into nationwide 'depression'

Now the question must be asked: Is it just coincidence that US suicide rates began to surge by 2 percent a year starting in 2006 (double the annual rise in the earlier period of the study), just two years before the US experienced its ‘Great Recession’ – the greatest economic setback since the Great Depression?

Although the Obama administration resorted to bail-ins and bail-outs to prevent the global economy and the “too big to fail” financial institutions from going over a cliff, precious little was done for millions of Americans who were suddenly faced with the prospects of evictions, foreclosures and prolonged unemployment.

Today, the situation with the US economy remains perilous to say the least. Consider just two statistics: The total mortgage debt outstanding amounted to approximately 13.8 trillion U.S. dollars in 2015, which debt-saddled Americans are struggling once again to return. This debt burden is nearing 2008 levels when the 'Great Recession' hit with a vengeance. Many experts are predicting it is just a matter of time before the next 'big one' makes landfall.

At the same time, university graduates are finding it a real challenge just returning their student-loan debts, especially when so many can't find jobs upon graduation.

According to Market Watch, “the $1.2 trillion in student loan debt may be preventing Americans from making the kinds of big purchases that drive economic growth, like house and cars, and reaching other milestones, such as having the ability to save for retirement or move out of mom and dad’s basement.”

Meanwhile, the only real growth happening on Wall Street comes courtesy of the US Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing (QE) program, which has (recklessly, many would argue) pumped billions of dollars into the economy. From this massive slush fund, US corporations are buying back their own stock, thereby creating the illusion of prosperity. The only thing Americans got from this foolishness is an $18 trillion national debt that has zero chance of being returned.

Here is Zerohedge’s grim summary of the situation: “Surely the economy would be kick-started by: three rounds of quantitative easing and forward guidance; a record Federal Reserve balance sheet; and an unprecedented increase in federal debt from $9.99 trillion in 2008 to $18.63 trillion in 2015, a jump of 86 percent [...] But the economic facts of 2015 displayed no impact from these massive government experiments.”

So how are millions of Americans dealing with this monstrous slab of depression pie on their plate? They are gorging themselves on anti-psychotic medication, which the US pharmaceuticals are only too happy to supply in industrial-size quantities. Indeed, the top-selling drug in the United States is an antipsychotic, happily named Abilify.

“To be a top seller, a drug has to be expensive and also widely used,” Steven Reidbord M.D. wrote in Psychology Today. “Abilify is both. It’s the 14th most prescribed brand-name medication, and it retails for about $30 a pill. Annual sales are over $7 billion, nearly a billion more than the next runner-up.”

Now that’s some mind-numbing pill-popping for Americans, a national pastime that is not shared by their Russian counterparts.

Could that be part of the growing US-Russia suicide divide?

Whatever the case may be, America’s and Russia’s suicide rates continue to converge, and if current trends hold, Russia looks set to turn the corner while America may be heading for some truly bad times, thanks to an economic system that is rigged to protect the biggest organizations - the corporations and banks - as opposed to We the People.

@Robert_Bridge

Robert Bridge is the author of the 2013 book, Midnight in the American Empire, which discusses the dangers of runaway corporate power in the US.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.