Two Princeton University economists document the social and economic forces that have lead to the decline of white-working class lives over the last half-century—the weakening of unions, the empowerment of big business, industrial consolidation, and a broken healthcare system, among other trends.
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.