What are we so afraid of?
January 27, 2003 8:39 PM   Subscribe

The number of health-related deaths in the United States in 2000 was over 1 million. The United States spends $13.6BN per year on ALL medical research. For $100BN-$200BN could we save 110,000 more people each year from health-related deaths? High end estimates of homelessness put the number around 3.5 million in the United States. For $30,000 each (100B/3.5M) we could house, feed and provide vocational training for every homeless person. Alternatively, we could provide $2,500 per year for insurance to each person without health care.
posted by PigAlien (38 comments total)
Regardless whether you feel the homeless should be housed, fed and trained - or whether or not everyone should be entitled to health care - the fact is your chances of being killed by terrorists is much less than your chances of being struck by a car. Even the worst biological/chemical/nuclear terrorist attacks are likely to kill fewer people than cancer does each year. Why are we so afraid of terrorists?
posted by PigAlien at 8:42 PM on January 27, 2003

Incidentally, are there any deaths that aren't health-related?
posted by Loudmax at 8:45 PM on January 27, 2003

Sorry, wrong question. We all know what we're afraid of. The question is, has our response really been proportionate and are there not greater dangers we should be addressing?
posted by PigAlien at 8:46 PM on January 27, 2003

Loudmax: Of course, murder isn't a health problem, nor is overdosing on drugs, falling from a great height, yada yada yada. In fact, how many accidental/homicidal/suicidal deaths each year could be avoided if we spent more money trying to prevent them? (I have no guess as to how, but for $100BN, I'm sure someone could come up with some good answers.)
posted by PigAlien at 8:51 PM on January 27, 2003

Spend all the money you want, you're not going to prevent a single death.

Delay, maybe. Postpone, possibly. Avoid? Nope.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 8:55 PM on January 27, 2003

$100BN? How about this...What are there about 25 million Iraqis? That's about $4000 for every citizen. Talk about your economic stimulus package! OR...How about sending 25 million Americans over there for a two week vacation!! I'm on a roll, folks!
posted by jaronson at 9:12 PM on January 27, 2003

jaronson, we could buy 2.5 million Americans brand-new Cadillac Escalades.

We could hold a national lottery and make one person twice as rich as Bill Gates, just to piss him off.

The possibilities are mind-boggling.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 9:15 PM on January 27, 2003

It's more complicated than throwing money at the problem. For example I read for the average person %80 (or some large number) of lifetime health care costs are spent in the last weeks of life to try and save from "natural causes" -- cancer, heart, etc.. but we can't ethically just pull the plug when we have the technology. Or that some homeless people are mentally ill and theyve allready fallen through the vocational safetynet before. Money, politics and government doesn't solve every problem.
posted by stbalbach at 9:18 PM on January 27, 2003

Same with education I think. The more money you throw at it, the smarter the people are supposed to get. Well, we would be supercomputer smart at some dollar point. Super healthy for everyone can't be achieved for the same reason. Maybe a dumb answer to a price tag and number avg, where to me it seems about right for where it is being spent.
posted by brent at 9:31 PM on January 27, 2003

Well, considering the US doesn't exactly throw money at either education or healthcare, how do we know?
posted by bshort at 9:42 PM on January 27, 2003

With $200 billion dollars, you could pretty much choose a problem that faces this country and fix it. Alternatively, you could create a problem that doesn't exist, then bomb it until it's "fixed".
posted by Hildago at 10:27 PM on January 27, 2003

Of course, murder isn't a health problem, nor is overdosing on drugs, falling from a great height, yada yada yada.

well, to pick a nit, these are actually the causes of health problems. albeit potentially brief ones.
posted by hob at 10:53 PM on January 27, 2003

Millions now living will never die.
posted by luckyclone at 11:06 PM on January 27, 2003

Alternatively, you could create a problem that doesn't exist, then bomb it until it's "fixed".

It's been done: The War On Drugs.
posted by y2karl at 11:12 PM on January 27, 2003

spend $30K on preventing homelessness and more people will become homeless to not become homeless.

Does that make sense?
posted by Frasermoo at 1:09 AM on January 28, 2003

Frasermoo, it does make sense if you're cynical enough to believe that people who are making minimum wage and barely can afford living will just stop working and all of a sudden get $30K a year.

And yes, I am that cynical.
posted by sebas at 1:28 AM on January 28, 2003

it's not just me then. good.
posted by Frasermoo at 2:40 AM on January 28, 2003

Not to mention that murder is indeed a health problem, or rather spending on hospitals and ambulances and emergency health care in general seems to be responsible for a lot of the drop in murder rates.
posted by jaek at 4:20 AM on January 28, 2003

I wonder how many of those 1 million 'health related' deaths a year are iatrogenic (like the weird objects left inside surgery victims, messed up dosages/prescriptions, blah blah....)

'For $30,000 each (100B/3.5M) we could house, feed and provide vocational training for every homeless person.' - or we could spend it on high tech weapons, like a system of orbiting laser weapons to force the nations of the world to do our bidding and make them pay us one million dollars 'that's Billions , Dr. Evilowolfowitz. A lot has changed since you got cryogenically frozen back in the Cold War'
posted by troutfishing at 5:30 AM on January 28, 2003

Thank you, everyone, for pretty much making my point beautifully. In fact, many problems can't be solved by throwing money at them - including terrorism. Let's stop making our decisions based on how scared we are and start making them based on where the real problems lie. Despite all fears to the contrary, terrorism is not a large threat to this country or the world, it just creates a very large amount of fear. If you don't want to spend $100BN to solve homelessness, well then GIVE ME BACK MY MONEY, but don't waste it on some problem that hardly exists.
posted by PigAlien at 5:41 AM on January 28, 2003

PigAlien -


The short answer to your question is: The top 1% of wage earners in the US (who now control about 40% of the overall national wealth) have come to dominate the political discourse in the US. Bill Gates himself admits, for example, that the current drive to end the inheritance tax (which Gates strongly opposes ending) came about as the result of a long term campaign against the so-called "death tax" on the part of a few, fantastically wealthy, dynastic US families.

The domination of the political discourse in the US (which also extends outward to influence the rest of the world, to some extent) by the top 1% or even 1/2 0f 1% of Americans has resulted in legislative and tax agendas which have dramatically accelerated the accumulation of wealth by this (aforementioned) tiny elite (see: mefi post on changes in income distribution in US).

The emerging American plutocrats (the top 1%) in the US do not care - with significant exceptions but on the average - to redistribute their wealth to the bottom 99% of Americans, especially to the needier bottom 1/5 of wage earners; these elites are "pulling away" - in cultural terms and in terms of their values - from the overall American consensus. This trend is the major one underlying the growing polarization of US society and politics: a breakdown in the consensus, in the polity.. [William Greider (see: "Who will tell the people?") has written extensively about this trend]. The US elites are coming to have - and feel - more in common with other wealthy elites around the world than with most Americans. And although elites have always, to an extent, held some shared global allegiance (back through the aristocratic age, the age of Kings and "nobility") since 1969 or so US income inequality, which had been decreasing from at least 1947 to 1968-70, has grown steadily.

Other factors have played an enourmous role in changes in US wealth distribution, notably the end of the Cold War: due the the historical role communism, socialism and the world labour movement played in forcing wage concessions. The first "socialized" (so to speak) medical care system was, in fact, a private health care system for factory workers implemented by Germany's Bismarck in the mid 19th century in order to serve as a bulwark against the advance of socialism in Germany. It was very effective, indeed, in quelling the sort of worker discontent which led to the advance of socialism and communism elsewhere in Europe and the world. BUT......the fear of communism is now gone (except, I suppose, as manifested in the superheated rhetoric of the US far right) and so wages are slowly being beaten down, greatly aided by the world economic globalization which is also beating down wages in the other, the wealthiest, industrialized nations around the world: France, Germany, Italy.......perhaps even Japan.


BUT, PigAlien - Isn't your question equivalent to asking "Why can't you humans make rational long term decisions on the national, or world, level?", or even "Why can't we just shift the median on the IQ Bell Curve over 50 or 60 points to the right?"

I've come to the conclusion that there are really two possible solutions to your question -1) free, high quality state sponsored IQ enhancement services -available to all- to modify the DNA of parent's fertilized embryos ( the 'in vitro' process, but with 'improvements' ) for greater intelligence (assuming we can actually manage to identify genes which determine broad spectrum intelligence, that is).

OR: 2) Benevolent saturation advertising. You could, of course, achieve this end much faster through indoctrination by the state, and/or through educational systems. I have ignored these totalitarian solutions. The Free-Market sytem - and Free-Market ideology - is now quite thoroughly entrenched in US and world industrial civilization: and since the interest of many, or most advertisers (and hence the content of mass advertising) - will tend to run counter to the interests of "rational" approaches to world problems (because the short term profit incentive is usually not congruent with global well-being), we cannot expect (short of the imposition of totalitarian solutions) advertising to align with "rational" solutions until the emergence of a Gattaca'd super-elite (see below) - who would, of course, dominate politics and also the ranks of advertising execs to produce (maybe) - 'rationality inducing' advertising and also enlightened government policies. That is, if they were not merely ignoring the huddled, impoverished masses or even taking to killing them for sport, or "farming" them as we now "farm" cows, pigs and chickens ("industrially", that is) to produce a superior culinary experience. or perhaps they would prefer to dine on "free ranging" impoverished masses.

Solution 1 (produce better offspring) is already happening, in a fashion, for the affluent in the US (and it is IS happening, in a massive way, at the phenotypic level - better schools, nutrition, all the childhood developmental benefits associated with wealth). But the current vector will eventually produce a Gattaca'd super-elite, for the elite will get an enormous jump on the masses in terms of their access to gene-mod ($) - they could even split off and become a new species ("Time Machine" like overlords, say).

At the moment, there are about 500 existing genetic tests for embryos and fertilized eggs. Gene-mod will be here very soon. I propose distributing the benefits. call it "Eugenics", or whatever: the name doesn't matter - it's happening already, and the really mind bending, revolutionary gene-mod techniques are barreling at us like a fast approaching freight train.

Solution 2? - well...It's great in theory, but where are the sugar daddies?

Solution 3) Alien overlords, benevolent or not.

In any case, I think we should spend a couple billion sending cargo ships to dump salt into the North Atlantic to maintain the salinity levels there and so keep that groovy Gulf-stream heat pump pumping. That's my nickel - Paleoclimatology seconds it, too.
posted by troutfishing at 7:32 AM on January 28, 2003

An modest and excellent analysis and proposal by troutfishing, as usual. One thing he did not mention is the tendency for humans to act irrationally, in spite of ponderous evidence to the contrary of a certain course of action, cognitive dissonance, and simple common sense. Barbara Tuchman terms this "folly" (she has written an excellent book on the subject called "the March of Folly" available at Amazon or do your own googling) and it is a mainstay of human activity and endeavor. Education does not affect it, nor the scientific method, nor the lessons of history. Until we can reduce the commission of folly, progress as defined above will continue only at high cost (not just financial) and individual effort and achievement.
posted by UncleFes at 7:58 AM on January 28, 2003

keep that groovy Gulf-stream heat pump pumping

If this winter is any indictation it may be too late for the East Coast.
posted by stbalbach at 8:32 AM on January 28, 2003

"But now we are told that 9.3 million families in this country are poverty-stricken on the basis of earning less than $3,000 a year. Welfare spending is ten times greater than the dark depths of the Depression. We are spending 45 billion dollars on welfare. Now, do a little arithmetic, and you will find that if we divided the 45 billion dollars up equally among those 9 million poor families, we would be able to give each family $4,600 a year, and this added to their present income should eliminate poverty! Direct aid to the poor, however, is running only about $600 per family. It seems that someplace there must be some overhead." - ronald reagan (october 27, 1964)
posted by blue_beetle at 8:43 AM on January 28, 2003

blue_beetle - Nice quote!!! Did you know that in another life, I used to be a beetle repairman? (aircooled beetles, that is)

Stbalbach - Nothing a big 'ol salt shaker can't take care of! well, maybe in conjunction with a 20 mile high egg beater or, FAILING THAT, a nice simple Edward Telleresque solution of a few hundred well placed nuclear explosions for a little "jump start"........Anyway, I'm buying a wood-stove....and snowshoes.....and a year's worth of food (just like the Mormons)......and a gun....and basic science texts, and vacuum packed seed......and antibiotics, and a toothbruth, and an Eagle Scout manual, and.....You know, this is getting really complex, see: Thermohaline cessation (shutdown) is an actual scientific theory, backed by massive amounts of research (so it's a "Big red flashing light" threat - in my book, anyway) but what about the upcoming Mayan New Year!!! (2012?) Could it be related to crustal shift theory? Oh no!!!!!!!! Then I'll need to buy a small surplus SUBMARINE (like the mini-subs the North Koreans use to Kidnap Japanese ctizens, maybe?) and DRAG IT OVERLAND to STICK IN MY YARD to await the BIG SLOSH!

Editor's warning: CAPITALIZED words above may refer to CRANK theory. But maybe not. Einstein believed it.

posted by troutfishing at 9:11 AM on January 28, 2003

What I find most depressing is that the elite insist on being so damned elite. For a mere $10 million, I would never have a need or want in my life unfulfilled. I accept that there are many who might not have such "modest" needs, so let's bump that figure to $100 milliion.

What the hell are the super-rich doing with all their money in excess of $100M? What the *fuck* are they doing with that cash that's so much more important than, say, helping people?

Larry Ellison and his new home being a prime example.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:24 AM on January 28, 2003

Five Fresh Fish - It's the classic old "needs and wants expand to the size of your income" phenomenon. And then there's the social factor. The Super-Rich compare themselves to other Super-Rich, only the name of the game is "keeping up with the Gates' ". I bet Larry Ellison has to work hard at this one, and I bet that it really irks him that Bill has so much more $ than he does now - So, I wonder, does Ellison lie awake at night thinking "that little prick! I could have been HIM.....well, I'm every bit as smart as he is, and I damn well am going to have a house as nice, too!" ?

You're damn right he does. There are six realms of hell in Buddhism, and this Larry Ellison fantasy of mine above illustrates the"Hungry Ghost Realm" which, in some depictions, is populated by sad, hungry little creatures with both HUGE bellies and tiny little mouths which are far too small to ever ennable these sad little creatures to eat enough fill those HUGE bellies and so, consequently, they are always suffering, always filled with the unfufilled longing of hunger, and ever striving for satiation......."hungry ghost one of the six realms of existence according to Buddhism. Hungry ghosts long for human life but cannot enjoy it, so they often haunt places or people. Through karma, bad deeds in one life may lead to rebirth as a hungry ghost" - But these "hell" realms also serve as a descriptions of the psychological hells of the living.

Ellison could, I think, try this technique: "A widespread Buddhist method consists of meditating on the opposite of what is to be attained to achieve freedom from all bonds, you meditate on your own bondage and lack of freedom, to develop compassion, the meditator must first think about his or her greed and selfish conduct and thus create the preconditions for a change for the better"

Larry Ellison may also be dwelling on the "Animal Plane": "A description (or picture) of the animal plane. The animal mind is a mind which, lacking mindfulness, is under the power of delusion and can rapidly lower its capacity. The mind is at a very low level and can sink into deeper and deeper hells according to its state. It is being controlled by greed, hatred and delusion and will be overcome by suffering until the end of his or her life. Thus the Buddha (Vijja or Transcendental wisdom) cannot appear. Only the one who has recollection of Him can escape from the hells and enter a higher realm.

I feel really wealthy on about $40,000 a year (for two people, no kids, US$). I brew my own beer and wine (the Nova Scotians, bless them, taught that trick!), fix my own cars, do my own plumbing and home repairs, repair my own computer......you get the picture. I get nice (1-2 year old) appliances (washers, dryers, microwaves, fancy sinks, nice stereo amps...you name it) - that the Mini-Ellisons of my area throw away - at the local dump. What I can't scrounge, I buy used. Sometimes I barter. The only professional fees I pay are to lawyers (very rarely) and (rarely too) dentists. So I have a lot more disposable income than most people.

But time? Well I guess all this stinginess takes up a bit of it (but, hey.....better than a poorly lit, poorly ventilated office filled wit cranky Dilberts, I'd say!) and so I have to go and work on the bathroom (dominated by "poor man's rich flourish" of a glass block 1 meter square window, built it m'self) and go to the dump.

Lately, I've been thinking using my relative abundance of time (rather than on Mefi) and $ for philanthropic projects. Sad ol' world needs a hand, no? I need release from the "cheap stuff" realm too.

Off to my heaven, my hell. Ta da.
posted by troutfishing at 10:13 AM on January 28, 2003

PigAlien - I apologize for getting so off-topic. I meant it in the best possible way.
posted by troutfishing at 10:17 AM on January 28, 2003

[OH NO - he's at it again! Get this guy a Goddamned blog of his own! He's running amok! Somebody sound the Crankfilter alarm! WOO WOO WOO WOO.......]

stbalbach - thanks. Now if only I could find a think tank to hire me to make "modest proposals" like my "enlightened eugenics" *feels cold chill down spine* proposal. (then all would be well with the world!)

I was trying to propose a plan to make humans behave rationally - either through biology or through conditioning - but you remind me of the flaw in my proposal, a whopper of an assumption: do the more intelligent behave more rationally? Or, perhaps, less? Is there some "sweet spot" of intelligence level, given human instinctual and emotional drives? Can more intelligence be, perhaps, a bad thing?

I tend to think not, and hope that such questions could be addressed with minor instinctual modifications - such as a (a genetically engineered, that is) greater instinctual inclination towards altruism and cooperation and a corresponding reduction in violence and violent agression.

There is, however, one trend which casts a looming shadow over my whole proposal - over the genetic solution, directly, and ultimately over all.

The Singularity

(or, "A modest theory of everything)

Any project of increasing human intelligence - or even of improving our "rationality" - would simply, in all likelihood, speed up our race towards that strange limit-horizon. And then, all bets are off.

I've written this before, and I will say it again: If there is other advanced, intelligent life in the Universe (or metaverse, or whatever they call the totality these days), and if such life has the capability of space travel and is aware of us, we should expect that they have a somewhat bored bureaucrat, or perhaps a research academic (or even a team of them) watching us to see if we will venture down certain strange, potentially apocalyptic avenues of the singularity which might, as Kurt Vonnegut envisioned in "Slaughterhouse 5", end everything

Self replicating nanobots to convert all matter in the metaverse into more of themselves, for example...........

Or Scalar Field Collapse (I do hope I'm using the correct terminology for this one); it's analogous to Vonnegut's "Ice9" catalytic reaction, but on an infinite level, propogating outward from the source (a physicists' lab, presumeably, or a particle accelerator) at the speed of light and obliterating - converting - everything in it's path.............

The job of the alien bureaucrat or the research team is to both study us and monitor us for signs that we are verging too close to the destructive aspects of the singularity and..............bomb us back to the stone age.

Maybe THIS is what those "Long Count" Hindu and Mayan cycles of time are about! -and the strange cyclopean ruins, immense stone block structures, mysterious underwater cities off Cuba, Vedic texts describing great battles involving the flying machines owned by the Gods, all the ciphers, the relics, the enigmas...

*turns on haunting, or cheesy, 'mystery effect' sound track, thin mysterioso chords on Farfisa, with slow kettle drums as in "Also Sprach Zarathurstra" going - 'BOOM boom boom boom BOOM boom boom boom' *

....and on and on - maybe this is a tale played out over, and over, and over again, as the human race makes the march up from it's fire-warmed caves, up to written language, the wheel, the gear, weapons, manufacturing, computers, biotech, nanotech...the internet, email spam, viagra and Spongebob Squarepants, George W. Bush, and then......

Maybe all this strange, largely unexplained detritus of the ages is due to "sudden, nonlinear climate change" or "Crustal shifts", but maybe.......

The research team or bored bureacrat says, in tone of slight disgust and terrible ennui, "Oh them...there at it again......Oh, very well.." *presses button, sending large comet screeching out of orbit topwards Earth*


Then the cycle just repeats. Over........and over.........and over.......

And yet, how have my theoretical observers escaped the Singularity themselves? Are they refugee-crusaders stamping out Singularity fires? Have them set ABSOLUTE LIMITS, technological areas which are off limits and utter taboo (as in Frank Herbert's "DUNE")?

Are they themselves manifestations of an earlier Singularity which has already propagated through the Metaverse, and which suffers no challenge to it's dominance, no other great eruption of infinite intelligence and technology?

Or do they not exist at all these observers, and we are alone? Is the Singularity self-quenching?

Is this the answer to the riddle of Fermi's Paradox?

Do they exist? Do they not? Watch the skies............

posted by troutfishing at 11:22 AM on January 28, 2003


*turns off Crankfilter siren*
posted by troutfishing at 11:26 AM on January 28, 2003

Eat your meds, trout, eat your meds!
posted by five fresh fish at 3:42 PM on January 28, 2003

Fish fresh Five. - I errr...did. that's the p[roblem...?/.
posted by troutfishing at 7:02 PM on January 28, 2003

Mr. Trout, meet Mr. Stomach Pump...
posted by five fresh fish at 8:00 PM on January 28, 2003

FFF - MUCH better today......you see - that sort of behavior wonderfull if you can get paid for it. Otherwise, it's some variant of OCD.

Doctor: "So you spent HOW long writing on this......what the heck is it anyway....some sort of chat room, or something?"

Me: "Doc, you've got to help me! My brain, it...it....it feels so full of thoughts! They're just screaming at me to let them out!"

Doc: "Try this....it might help. It's called Soma"
posted by troutfishing at 10:14 AM on January 29, 2003

And enough about the Tapirs.
posted by troutfishing at 10:15 AM on January 29, 2003

META >>>>>>>>>> go .
posted by troutfishing at 11:34 AM on January 29, 2003

You were brilliant in the SotU thread, though. And a little freaky in the H thread. 10 years? Shit. That's barely enough time for me to get packed.

I don't think tapirs are the answer. Weasels are the answer. Try it one day -- for any question, respond "weasels." Saying "tapirs" just encourages questions. "Weasels" shut's 'em up.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:35 PM on January 29, 2003

FFF - I was a little manic that day.....Weasels! Heh heh. Thanks. I'll try it.
posted by troutfishing at 6:57 AM on January 31, 2003

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