When governments decide to balance their budgets by cutting services to the very young and to the elderly, or by cutting medical care and pension benefits, they are doing more than just saving some money for the current fiscal year and trying to reign in social spending so that they can continue to cut taxes for the rich and increase military spending. They are also bringing about the premature deaths of thousands of people they judge to be a socially useless surplus population unable to produce surplus value for the capitalist economic system. Their deaths are the real savings, as the dead no longer need any services or medical care at all.

I’m not making this up. Science Daily reported that the British Medical Journal has concluded, “Radical cuts to social welfare spending could cause not just economic pain but cost lives.” The BMJ article describes the effect of spending cuts in Europe, but it is not too wild to speculate that here in the U.S., where our social safety net has many more and bigger holes in it than in Europe, budget cuts to social and medical services will have even worse consequences for people.

David Stuckler of Oxford University and his team have shown a relation, revealing that the amounts of social spending by governments are “strongly associated” with people’s risk of death from heart disease and illnesses linked to alcohol and other like conditions, which Science Daily calls “diseases relating to social circumstances.”

The study showed that this association shows up even with health care budgets that have been protected. The science magazine reports that, according to Stuckler, “social welfare spending is as important, if not more so [than health budgets], for population health.” It is not hard to figure out what will happen to the poor and elderly if, in the U.S., the big cuts to Medicare go through, along with reductions in social programs.

The Oxford group went over data, which included social programs aimed at families with children, job programs for the unemployed and help for the disabled, from 15 countries collected by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

We should not be surprised by their findings, namely “that when social spending was high, mortality rates fell, but when they were low, mortality rates rose substantially.” They also found out that there were two areas where the state could cut spending without killing off the poor and elderly – areas with no “negative impact on the public’s health.” Those areas were the military and the prisons. But these are the very areas where they want to increase spending, for which cuts in public welfare have to be made.

The study concludes, “This report reveals that ordinary people may be paying the ultimate price for budget cuts – potentially costing them their lives.”

You can be sure that what applies to the Europeans also applies to us, in spades.


Thomas Riggins
Thomas Riggins

Thomas Riggins has a background in philisophy, anthropology and archeology. He writes from New York, NY. Riggins was associate editor of Political Affairs magazine.