Increase US Life Expectancy Without Increasing the Power of Government
Following up on this post about US life expectancy at birth by Dr. Joyner last Friday, it occurs to me that there’s a quick and easy step the federal government could take that would significantly increase our life expectancy almost overnight. Unfortunately, while it would without a doubt have a much more profound effect on that metric than even the best-case (read: ‘most unlikely’) scenario for government-run health care, it’s also all but certain that the feds won’t actually try it.
As Dr. Joyner noted last week, “when we control for traffic fatalities and homicides, ‘The US jumps from 15th on the list with a life expectancy of 75.3 to 1st with a life expectancy of 76.9.'” Traffic accidents are a fact of life in a country as spread out — and dedicated to its cars — as ours is. We might be able to make policy changes that could reduce their number, but we’re probably not going to remove them as a factor absent major technological improvements in vehicle safety.
Homicide, however, we could impact immediately and irrevocably right now simply by decriminalizing most (or all) currently illegal drugs. Remove the artificial, government-created scarcity, and the profits and incentive to engage in underworld violence that goes with it, and the homicide rate would fall significantly. More of our young men would survive to middle adulthood, hundreds of thousands of prisoners would be freed (or never created) to engage in productive work, and our life expectancy at birth would jump immediately and permanently. All without the government having to nationalize one-sixth of the economy and expropriate trillions more dollars from the private sector to pay for the hope that the outcome will be improved.
Obviously this is just one idea and will not solve much else that needs fixing about our health care system. But the confidence we can have that it will have the desired effect on improving life expectancy (and related health and crime problems) is orders of magnitude higher than that for letting government run the whole system. And, yes, it would probably result in higher rates of other kinds of drug-related health issues. Of course, we would also free up tens of billions of dollars in resources now wasted pursuing, prosecuting, and incarcerating drug offenders, some of which could then be directed toward ameliorating those issues. Even without considering the myriad other benefits decriminalization would bring to liberty and the treasury, the cost-benefit analysis is incontrovertibly in favour.
The single biggest problem with this plan is, of course, that it requires that the government give up power it has appropriated to itself. As no lesser authority than Thomas Jefferson noted, “the natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.” Accordingly, it is far, far more likely that the government will persist in its efforts to increase its power by taking over the health care system than it is that it will yield power it already holds, even if the latter would actually have a more felicitous effect.