Could your political beliefs determine how long you live? New research from sociologist Dr William Cockerham and colleagues from the University of Alabama in the United States has found that differences in attitudes to looking after your body and your health are predicted by your political allegiances.
It seems those who believe the state should take responsibility for most aspects of life also tend to eschew personal responsibility for taking care of themselves. As a result, they are more likely to engage in lifestyles hazardous to their health, including drinking to excess and not exercising.
The just-published research was conducted among Russians, comparing those who longed for a to return to the old-style Soviet system with those who preferred the free-market approach to the economy.
Personal interviews with almost 9,000 Russians found significant differences in how much they looked after their own health depending on where they placed themselves on the political spectrum.
David says that this reminds him of Glasgow, another great bastion of socialist intellectual self-abuse, and bodily self-abuse by other more enjoyable but equally destructive means. But Dr Raj Persaud doesn’t seem to have heard about Glasgow.
The old divisions between socialists and capitalists may have largely disappeared in modern Britain but elsewhere in Europe, particularly in the old eastern bloc countries, the political conflict between socialists and capitalists remains. These countries have experienced unprecedented upheaval since the collapse of the old Soviet systems and it is still not clear to large sections of the electorate that abandoning the old centrally-planned economies has brought any real benefits yet.
But the Russian plunge in life expectancy began several decades ago, so the capitalism they’ve been having over there lately can hardly be blamed.
Russian male life expectancy stood at 64 years in 1965, but steadily decreased to around 62 years by 1980. Male longevity improved during Gorbachev’s brief (1984-87) anti-alcohol campaign, reaching almost 65 years in 1987, and then entered a period of accelerated decline – centred around the fall of the communist regime – in which life expectancy fell to a modern low of roughly 58 years in 1994. The most recent figures for 2000 show Russian males living 59 years, on average some five years less than in 1965.
Things have improved a tiny bit, in other words, but not nearly enough to take Russians back to the good old days before the system so many of them yearn for began its final collapse.
Persaud ends his article with what can only be called a philosophical attack on the whole idea of collectivised medicine.
The dilemma in politics is that some kind of safety net for those unable to look after themselves seems desirable, yet if the net becomes too extensive it may act as a disincentive for fostering individual personal responsibility for looking after one’s own health.
Solving this dilemma is an urgent requirement of modern politics because it could even determine how long we live.
“Solving this dilemma” sounds an awful lot like “squaring this circle” to me. This is our old friend moral hazard, a sadly familiar concept to all too many providers of care or help. You help someone who’s down, to get him back on his feet, and he uses your help to make staying down more comfortable, and when you finally give up with helping him, he’s lost the trick of walking. The Welfare State sets up a trampoline, and it turns into a swamp.