Across the Atlantic, the suicide rate soared by 30% in the first 20 years of the 21st century. As the ‘war on drugs’ has escalated, so have deaths from substance abuse: in the US, they have grown exponentially since the 1970s, helping to drive the fall in life expectancy… Karl Marx described religion as the ‘sigh of the oppressed creature’: today this is more of an apt description of drug addiction, driven by self-medication of those afflicted by trauma… Depression which increased by almost a fifth between 2005 & 2015, has also surged among US teenagers.The rise of the ‘free market’, we were promised, would unleash endless prosperity. But while the age of strong trade unions, expansive welfare states delivered the greatest improvement in living standards in history, our current economic model is decomposing all around us..
Last autumn, a little-discussed report issued by the United Nations noted that human development had declined in 90% of countries for two years in a row, a fall without precedent for more than three decades. The pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine played their role, but so too did “sweeping social and economic shifts, dangerous planetary changes, and massive increases in political and social polarisation”.
You may well be familiar with chatter about “the decline of the west”: it has tended to be the preserve of the reactionary right, who blame, variously, moral decay, multiculturalism and a reassessment of European history for our downfall. But it is not minority rights, diversity or acknowledgment of western crimes to blame. The turnaround in our collective fortunes has been dramatic. But it is driven by an economic system that promised personal freedom but instead delivered insecurity on a mass scale, and which has has hurt us in every conceivable way, from our emotional and physical wellbeing to our material circumstances…