It is a highly important book ... Though repetitive, the prose in Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism is clear, the style is discursive and the spirit reflects the boundless curiosity that led the two economists to sociology ... One issue this book does not raise is how, at a time of great partisan divide, readers will receive its message. Those on the conservative side might question the idea of deaths of despair since they tend to see addiction and suicide as moral flaws ... Readers on the liberal left, on the other hand, are likely to applaud the authors’ many highly thoughtful proposals to counter growing inequality. But while liberals tend to root for the underdog, white males have not been first in line for their sympathy.
Case and Deaton do a great job making the case that something has gone grievously wrong. The solutions they propose, such as repairing the U.S. safety net and overhauling the broken U.S. health-care system, are worthy ones, but somehow don't feel up to addressing the gargantuan social problems they spell out so well ... Something more will be needed to address the steady erosion of working-class life, with all the heartbreak and despair it's engendered.
Case and Deaton have a powerful explanation for all of this [death] ... In their most potent analysis, Case and Deaton stress that the crisis afflicting the white working class today is not an isolated event. The deaths of despair that occur today are similar to the crisis that swept over the African American working class in the 1970s and ’80s ... Deaths of Despair, in its conclusion, makes a methodical case for the abolition of employer-sponsored plans and the creation of universal health care. It lays out the need to take apart the health care lobby, reduce patent monopolies, break up hospital chains, and build a strong safety net to boost wages. The dissonant aspect of the book is that in support of this, the authors frequently decry the decline of the nuclear family, broken marriages, frayed communities, the absence of religion, and evaporation of the spiritually important aspects of work. They frequently dismiss taxation of the very wealthy as a solution. In this light, the book is an interesting object: a conservative case for universal care. Those on the left who are interested in a more functional, humane system should take note ... Deaths of Despair does service to the project of creating a powerful working-class movement bound together in the interest of alleviating a common nuisance, and creating a future worth living to see.
Heavy as it is, the first half of the book is when they’re at their best, and highlights their two main successes: first, they balance factors we indicated as making this kind of conversation so difficult. That is, they get the reader to see and understand the data but never lose the human component behind that data, they are never lugubrious and maintain the seriousness the subject deserves, and they combine academic rigor with moral force, which at times catches the reader off-guard. These aren’t eruptions of outrage at injustice, there’s something more adult about them, even when they border on anger. They impress you as stern reminders of obvious truths or the willingness to describe cruelty and injury with the strong language they deserve. Their second success, which flows out of the first, is that for the first half you feel like you are reading an important and necessary book ... Despite clearly seeing market distortions they arrive at terribly interventionist conclusions, many sections are either remarkably underwhelming and unpersuasive, or downright bad, and much of this is done in a self-contradictory way ... Anne Case and Angus Deaton treat their subject with the seriousness it deserves, but they don’t provide the solutions it demands ... Those looking for a principled defense of capitalism and the radical changes the American system requires will find this a deeply unsatisfying book and ought to oppose such muddle with vigor.
... the picture they paint is painstaking in its detail and vivid in its importance ... the authors rely less on data and evidence, more on conjecture and sociological speculation ... And while the strength of the earlier part of Deaths of Despair lies in its statistics and evidence, it is here, where analysis is replaced by speculation, that the book is less satisfactory ... The final policy section feels muddled—the authors slip into corporation, bank and politico-bashing with rather a Trumpian tone but little analysis or policy to back it up ... As a result, the gap between their rhetoric and policy prescriptions feels achingly wide ... Not only do their calls for a 'modest' rise in the minimum wage and weaker patent protection seem insufficient, none of the policy discussion even tries to address the cultural arguments about community cohesion and pride upon which the authors pin so much earlier in the book.
That the book is unoriginal isn’t necessarily a criticism. Whether society is willing to give a name to it or not, there has always been an acceptance that poverty kills and capitalism has its victims. The attempted shock factor of this book seems to be a slightly clumsy 'But did you know it kills white people too?' ... What is a criticism, however, is the absence of any form of critical analysis of the unconstrained system of capitalism in America today. The authors lay the blame at the feet of bad-faith actors in US private healthcare or pharmaceutical industries ... However, they too easily dismiss the role a publicly funded national health service could play in alleviating the crisis ... Devoid of any real policy solutions, the authors resort to rudimentary explanations drenched in the apple-pie politics of capitalism past. Simplistic longings for the return of communal gatherings in churches and union halls and lamentations for the breakdown of the traditional nuclear family are offered instead of actual legislative policy changes, healthcare or education reform ... An interesting read if you too long for the good old days, less so if you’re minded toward some sort of structural change.