The United States Values Wealth Over Health — And Doesn’t Even Do It Well
The other day I had some old pressure treated wood to dispose of after a landscaping project. Since the wood is treated with powerful poisonous insecticides (which is why it can be on or in the ground) I couldn’t legally just send it to a landfill. Environmental regulations say that treated wood must be disposed off as a dangerous waste. It turned out to be a real pain, it took me a couple days of searching to find where I could dispose of it, then I had to drive across town and pay about $50 to get rid of the equivalent of a car trunk full of old treated wood.
My first instinct was irritation at the inefficiency of government bureaucracy, but that was alleviated by the professionalism and courtesy of the folks at the dump site. But I still thought it was stupid to make people jump through all those hoops, and pay so much money. I had the time and money to do the right thing, and was willing to do it. But I imagine a lot of folks who are not as financially secure would simply go dump it by a roadside, or in a vacant lot or over a fence somewhere.
But the more I thought about it the more I realized the root of the problem is a Federal government that has valued wealth over all forms of health, particularly since Republicans became dominant 40 years ago. Local government’s have limited funds to develop their own programs for every sort of health and safety issue because for 40 years the Federal Government been focused on allowing the rich to collect ridiculous levels of personal wealth, and so been unwilling to tax or spend on a silly thing like environmental or personal health.
Here are some statistics that document how the richest country in the world consistently chooses wealth over health.
Per Capita the US is rich, it has 53% of the ultra high net worth people in the world, more than all the other countries in the world combined (for a chart see https://www.visualcapitalist.com/top-20-countries-with-the-most-ultra-wealthy-individuals/ )
US health care ranks poorly compared to other Countries. Comparing 11 of the wealthiest countries the US ranks dead last, despite actually spending far more on Healthcare per person than any other country.
Focusing specifically on life expectancy, the US ranks 54th out of 248 countries, way below the life expectancy for every other developed democracy in the world. https://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/fund-reports/2021/aug/mirror-mirror-2021-
Infant mortality documents a similar low ranking. 49 countries have lower infant mortality rates that the United States. Russian and Cuban babies have a better chance of surviving than babies in the United States. https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/infant-mortality-rate-by-country
In responding to Global warming 17 countries have done a better job of responding to global warming than the richest country in the world has. https://gain.nd.edu/our-work/country-index/rankings/
The real irony is that the Republican total focus on low taxes on the wealthy that began with Ronald Reagan in 1982 have produced the opposite effect from what was promised.
The National debt fell every year from World War II to 1981 and we grew nearly 3% a year on top of the debt reduction back when the highest tax rate on the wealthy was 70% or more. Since 1982 the highest tax rate on the wealthy has been below 40% and the National debt has grown larger every year. Since 1982 the National debt as a percentage of GDP has grown faster than GDP growth.
Republican low tax policies since 1982 have pushed the country into a state of slow economic decline. For this we have suffered from mediocre healthcare and environmental policies with huge long term risks?