Aug 012009

Some very interesting results reported in this presentation (PDF file).

The United States is typically reported as having a dismal health care system when compared to the rest of the world; the metric is, often enough, life expectancy, where the US falls to about 15th place. But is the lower US life expectancy due to the US health care system… or something else?

Many people die in ways that *no* health care system could deal with. Homicides and traffic accident, for instance, where death comes swiftly and with massive unfixable traumas. Now, if every nation had the same rates of homicide and traffic fatalities, then those would not be statistically important when working up life expectancy stats. But the fact is that the US has anomalously high rates of both murder and auto accident deaths.

We die in more murders because there are pockets of America where the rule of law and respect for otherwise-accepted norms of behavior are not what they should be. We have more traffic accidents because we have more cars, and drive them further and more often than others. What happens when those deaths are factored out of the data? An interesting thing…


Another problem the US has is a higher than norm infant mortality rate. Why is that? Is that the fault of the health care system? Well… there’s another explanation:

A 2007 study done by Baruch College economists June and David O”Neill sheds some light on why U.S. infant mortality rates are higher-more low weight births. In their study, U.S. infant mortality was 6.8 per 1,000 live births, and Canada’s was 5.3. Low birth weight significantly increases an infant’s chance of dying. Teen mothers are much more likely to bear low birth weight babies and teen motherhood is almost three times higher in the U.S. than it is in Canada. The authors calculate that if Canada had the same the distribution of low-weight births as the U.S., its infant mortality rate would rise above the U.S. rate of 6.8 per 1,000 live births to 7.06. On the other hand, if the U.S. had Canada’s distribution of low-weight births, its infant mortality rate would fall to 5.4. In other words, the American health care system is much better than Canada’s at saving low birth weight babies -we just have more babies who are likely to die before their first birthdays.

To find a really good comparative metric on health care, you’d need to find some problem that is is a “true” health care issue, one that hospitals and doctors can really have an effect on (unlike, say, murder). So… how about cancer? That’s a problem that is generally not an immediate emergency (even aggressive cancers take months from inception to the time they kill), and can be dealt with by health care professional. So how does the US stack up?


It looks like if you have cancer, you want to an average American, or, better still, a white American. Granted, black Americans look to have it pretty bad. Now why *that* is can be laid at the feet of a great many issues, including an increased risk of being poor, perhaps cultural issues that would reduce your chances of going to the doc for early screening, perhaps racism in some shape or form.

Americans, it seems, die sooner than the rest of the industrialized world not because our health care system is “in crisis” or “needs reform,” but because we tend to do more… well, dangerous things.

 Posted by at 11:07 am
  • Starviking

    How does this mesh with John Lott’s assertions that the UK’s crime rates are far worse than the US? It seems to run contrary to his assertions, and those of many in the pro-gun community in the US.

  • admin

    The UK crime rate seems to be higher that that of the US, but the US *murder* rate seems likely to be substantially higher. Picking my pocket need not necessarily be a matter for the hospital, but sticking a knife into my kidneys probably would be.

    I’ve seen numerous reports, however, that the UK’s violent crime rate, including their murder rate, is seriously under-reported. So the exact diference in murder rate between US and UK might not be known with any precision.

  • sferrin

    Whoa. That first set of stats is going to get you branded a racist for daring to cite it. (No, it doesn’t matter if it’s true these days.)

  • admin

    > That first set of stats is going to get you branded a racist

    There’s not a damn thing of even the slightest interest that I can do that *won’t* get me branded a racist by *somebody.* I had my “fear of being branded a racist” gland burned out when I was in college and had a race riot outside my dorm room because I posted an editorial cartoon that was about secular humanism.

  • Starviking

    “had a race riot outside my dorm room because I posted an editorial cartoon that was about secular humanism.”

    You wouldn’t happen to have that cartoon available would you?

  • admin

    I do not, no. Oddly enough, in the course of the “troubles,” it was torn off the door.

    In case you’d like to spend a few hours looking, I’ll try to describe it:
    1) It was from the late 1980’s/early 1990’s
    2) it was a single-panel editorial cartoon
    3) In response to some legal case in Alabama (where, IIRC, “secular humanism” was banned from classrooms or some such)
    4) The title/caption was something like “Education in Alabama: Secular Humanism 101”
    5) The image included two joyfull stereotypical rednecks, each holding small children on their shoulders
    6) Looking across the panel at two dangling feet (in business shoes), indicating someone’d been lynched
    7) And a tag hanging from one of the shooes reading something like “No good sekular hoomanist” or some such.

    When the initial mob showed up and started pounding on my door, my roommate dove under his bed; I answered the door and attempted to engage them. It was a learning experience; I’d never before encounted such astonishing willfull ignorance. One of the leaders, or at least one of the loudest, banged on that cartoon and demanded to know what it was about; I started to explain that it was about secular humanism, whereupon he shouted “Bullshit! That’s my fuckin’ Uncle Tom!”

    I was unable to come up with an adequate response to that. I mean really, what can you say?

    It only got dumber from there. The Calvin and Hobbes cartoons also pissed them off for some reason. Or for no reason.

    This was in the time of the LA/Rodney King riots; I think a lot of folk were simply looking for a reason to act stupidly. reasoned debate was being shut down at Iowa State U due to political correctness and implicit speech codes, making the situation even worse.

    As a result of this incident, students were no longer allowed to put anything on the outside of their dorm doors. So if you are an ISU student and that rule’s still in place… now you know why. (There was some other dorm resident who apparently had a Confederate battle flag on his dorm wall which could be seen from oputside, so that also fed into the general climate of “Since universities are vital centers of learnign and debate, it’s vital we not allow anyone to say anything controversial… or what might be seen as controversial. It will help the kids to get along better in the outside world if they’ve been protected from contrary views.”)

  • sferrin

    The thing that kills me is those “progressives” who profess equality for all are generally the ones who keep racism alive and well. Ironic how anybody who says “skin color doesn’t mean shit, ability does” are branded racist.

  • admin

    > Ironic how anybody who says “skin color doesn’t mean shit, ability does” are branded racist.


    For those reading along, and especially for those of a Leftist bent: I’m not a racist. And not for some high-minded kumbaya reason… for a more practical one. It’s quite simple: why should I decide to dislike a person based on their race when there are so many better reasons to dislike people?

  • John Scott

    Sorry to hear ISU is almost as buggered as CU Boulder (89).

    Can I send a link to this post to my rep and senators?

  • admin

    > Sorry to hear ISU is almost as buggered as CU Boulder

    I can’t imagine that *that* is possible. I went to ISU, but lived near and often visited CU in the years after graduation…. Boulder is *bonkers.*

    For those who don’t know CU-Boulder… that’s the place that employed fake-Injun Ward Churchill, the guy who caleld the WTC victims “little Eichmanns.” Shortly before I moved away from the place, there were news reports that the city council was discussing the possibility of mandating tracking devices for all privately owned cars in city limits… they’d track your driving, and fine you if you drove too much (cars are bad, m’kay). The idea fell through, but I think more due to expense than a sudden awareness of just how psychotic the idea was.

    > Can I send a link to this post to my rep and senators?

    I would imagine so. But that’d be between you and your internet service provider, I should think. As to whether pointing out that “turning the US healthcare system into a European-style one woudl involve a reduction in life expectancy” would do any good, I can’t say. Any Repub that votes for this sort of thing should by now know he’s putting his political future in jeopardy, while Dems might honestly think that it’s a good idea, stats be damned.

  • John Scott

    Cool Thanks

    Boulder is definitely a freak show.

    I moved out right after graduation to the real
    world but played rugby with the team there
    for 19 years.

    My rep is very conservative – I just thought
    this post has some great data to toss at the rest.

    My senators are dems though so they will love
    the eugenics bent.

  • 2Hotel9

    The medical data is really not necessary, the small fact the EVERYONE ON THE PLANET wants to come here for medical care pretty much says it all.

    And as for race? Y’all are way late to the party. When I left the US Army in the mid’80s and returned to Mississippi, where I grew up(which makes me a racist, don’t ya know!), I was approached by the local “group” and asked to join. Said no thanks, not my bag, man. They obviously had a language problem, or hearing, I never really gave enough of a fuck to find out which.

    After a rather tumultuous 8 months which started with threats against my family and ended with the FBI picking me up, taking me to their Jackson, MS Field Office, and explaining, in a surprisingly oblique manner, that I needed to leave the state before somebody ended up dead. And more surprisingly, they explained that they figured I was NOT the probable corpse and they really didn’t want to have to arrest and prosecute me and throw my ass in prison.

    Part 2. Moved to Atlanta, got a job in apartment maintenance. And immediately ran into the OTHER half of America’s race problem, giving me grieve for bein’ a cracka working up n theys cribbs.

    In conclusion, it is a two-way street, and all the idiots are driving the same direction. Nowhere fast.

  • Brianna

    ” Ironic how anybody who says “skin color doesn’t mean shit, ability does” are branded racist.

    Indeed. ”

    I once wrote an opinion piece for my university newspaper against affirmative action stating, “If believing that gender or skin color shouldn’t play any role in who gets what is a racist opinion, then I guess that makes me a racist”. Two days later some black female student in the english department (I know that because it was stated in the piece she wrote) got her opinion published, which was basically a bunch of screaming of how dare I speak out against affirmative action and I must be the lowest type of human being if I was willing to call myself a racist in print like that. Never mind that the only reason I put that statement in there was to illustrate how foolish it was to call people racist for daring to believe in equal opportunity regardless of race. This was all about 5 years ago, or I’d post the links to the op-pieces.

    I’ve heard a theory that people who believe that affirmative action is a good policy are (for the most part) afraid that if affirmative action didn’t exist, they wouldn’t be able to succeed in their field of endeavor (whatever that may be). I do not think this is universally true. But I can certainly think of people for whom it is true. And I am willing to bet that the more fervent someone’s professed believe in affirmative action is, the more likely that this particular theory is to hold true for that person.

  • admin

    Go back about 15 years and you’ll find I published much the same letter to the ISU-daily-rag editor, with much the same result. Had a number of such lettes published, actually, all generally irritating to some group of deserving nincompoops. And about as useful, overall, as the common flamewar of today.

    “Racist!” has become an insult so commonly thrown around as to lose its sting for many. Just as “fascist” and “Nazi” have been used so often by members of the Left to tar members of the Right (which is ironic, as fascism and Nazism were leftist movements) that they have lost their meaning.

  • Jim

    One of the reasons that the UK has a lower murder rate than the US is that we categorize murder differently.

    In the US, if the cause of death is determined to be homicide it is counted as a murder. If a thousand people die in the US of bullet ventilation and baseball bat trauma, that is counted as a thousand murders.

    In the US, the perpetrator has to be convicted of the act of murder for it to be counted as murder. If a thousand people die in the UK of stab wounds and lead poisoning, but only five get convicted, only five will be counted.

    I hope this explains another disparity in the numbers.