Living and Dying in America: An Essay on Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism
Journal of Economic Literature
no. 4, December 2022
This essay reviews Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism (hereafter, DEATHS) by Anne Case and Angus Deaton, a fascinating account of life and death in the United States
during the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. While primarily targeted toward a popular audience, the volume will be of interest to many economists and other social scientists. It
postulates how American capitalism run amok—combined with and partially causing the declining economic circumstances of the less educated—has increased mortality from drugs, suicide, and
chronic liver disease. After describing the material in DEATHS in considerable detail, I suggest a variety of research questions that need to be answered to confirm or refute Case and Deaton's
arguments and describe challenges to their key hypotheses. Among the latter are the ability of the postulated relationships to explain the sharply differing mortality trajectories of non-Hispanic
Whites, compared with other groups, and the timing of the observed mortality changes. Along the way, I raise doubts about the usefulness of the "deaths of despair" conceptualization, with its
strong implications about causality.
Ruhm, Christopher J.
"Living and Dying in America: An Essay on Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism."
Journal of Economic Literature,
Health and Inequality
Health: Government Policy; Regulation; Public Health
Demographic Trends, Macroeconomic Effects, and Forecasts
Demographic Economics: Public Policy